Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #6: Avebury, Glastonbury Tor, Bath, and Tintern Abbey

Prehistoric Avebury

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.

Glastonbury Tor

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. 

Armistice Ceremony at Bath Cathedral

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.

Tintern Abbey

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.

Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #4: Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, and York

Robin Hood's Bay

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!”

Whitby Abbey

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.    

York Minster Cathedral

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.

Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #3: Humber Bridge, Wilberforce House and Rudston Monolith

Humber Bridge

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).

Wilberforce

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).

Rudston Monolith

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.

Election Day, November 2, 2010

Next Tuesday, November 2, is Election Day.  Local, state, and national government offices will be on the ballot.  Some of   the many positions to be voted on in Guilford County are: 1) The United States Senate seat for North Carolina  currently held by Senator Richard Burr, who is running for re-election; 2) Seats for United States House Districts, 6, 12, and 13; 3) Seats for North Carolina State Senate Districts 26, 27, 28, and 33; 4) Seats for North Carolina State House Districts 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, and 62; and 5) Seats for Guilford County Commissioner Districts 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9.  Polls around the county will open at 6:30 a. m. and close at 7:30 p. m. 

If you are not already registered to vote, you will not be able to vote on November 2.

If you would like to see a sample ballot before you go to your polling place, you can do so online at the North Carolina State Board of Elections website.  Once there, click on My Election Information.  Then, put in your first name, last name, date of birth, and county.  Your voter information will come up.  Included will be precinct number, polling place, and a link to your sample ballot.

Across the country, local, state, and nationwide campaigns are moving toward their conclusions next Tuesday.  Be sure to go out and vote so that your voice will be heard!

Early Voting for the November 2 Election

Early voting for the November 2 election begins October 14 and ends October 30.  Locations, days, and times can be found on the Guilford County Board of Elections website.  If you vote early, you can  register to vote and vote at the same time.  To register to vote, you will need to provide proof of Guilford County residence from a list of approved forms of identification found on that same website.  Just click on Registering to Vote During Early Voting.

New Discoveries at Sagalassos

Back in the late 1980s there was a wonderful archaeology series on TV’s Arts and Entertainment Network called Footsteps.

In each episode, presenter David Drew followed in the footsteps of a bold traveler or great archaeologist of the past, such as Alfred P. Maudslay, who investigated the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala in the 1880s, and Johann-Ludwig Burckhardt, the Swiss traveler who disguised himself as an Arab and is credited with the rediscovery in 1812 of Jordan’s famous Petra, the “rose red city half as old as time.”

But my favorite episode of Footsteps retraced the journeys of the Englishman Sir Charles Fellows, the first European in hundreds of years to set foot in the Xanthus Valley of Ancient Lycia (located in present-day Southwestern Turkey) when he first went there in 1838.

I was immediately struck by the beautiful physical settings of the cities of the mysterious Lycians, nestled as they were amongst mountains and gorges, and especially by their tombs or sepulchres, which are distinctive for their house-like shapes — some perched on rock pedestals high in the air, others cut into seemingly inaccessible cliffs.

On a forthcoming trip to the British Museum, I look forward to seeing two of these extraordinary sepulchral monuments:  the tomb of Payava as well as the Nereid Monument — both of which were brought by Fellows and his “marble hunters” back to England.

Anyway, as Drew and his Footsteps crew traveled through Turkey en route to Lycia, and just as Fellows did during his journey in 1838, they passed through Sagalassos, an ancient Roman city once of considerable importance, but which had been devastated by repeated earthquakes and eventually abandoned.   Located high in the Western Toros range of mountains, the shattered remains of the city’s temples and buildings seemed to litter the site everywhere, which at the time of filming was covered by a dusting of snow.

When this episode of Footsteps was made, Sagalassos was still largely unexcavated, but over the last twenty years or so the Belgian Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project, directed by Professor Marc Waelkens from the University of Leuven, has managed to unearth and reconstruct a great deal of the city.      

Recent finds have included the remains of enormous statues of the Roman emperors Hadrian (76-138) and Marcus Aurelius (121-180), and the excavation team has also recently completed a reconstruction of the Antonine Nymphaeum (i.e., a fountain).

You can read about these and other discoveries at Sagalassos here, here, and here.

If you’re like me and have a general interest in archaeology, you may be curious about Greensboro Public Library’s latest acquisitions on this subject, which include:  Finders Keepers:  A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs; Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald P. Ryan; The Letter and the Scroll:  What Archaeology Tells Us About the Bible by Robin Currie and Stephen Hyslop; Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism by Cathy Gere; To Wake the Dead:  A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology by Marina Belozerskaya; Cahokia:  Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat; and In the Valley of the Kings:  Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Daniel Meyerson.

Important Franklin Expedition Discovery?

We have previously posted a couple of times on the famous lost expedition of Sir John Franklin, including this summer when Parks Canada made yet another attempt to find Franklin’s vessels, the Erebus and Terror.

Though August’s Parks Canada effort failed to locate them, there is now word from the Montreal Gazette that a television personality named Bear Grylls may have found some human remains of Franklin crewmen on a small unnamed island in Wellington Strait east of King William Island.  Grylls had stopped at the island a few weeks ago during a charity-raising effort to make the Northwest Passage in a rigid inflatable boat.  As many as four graves may have been found. 

The expedition was documented in a blog which you can read here.  The find is discussed in the posts for September 2nd and 4th.

At this point, no one can be certain exactly what Grylls may have found.  However, Marc-Andre Bernier, Parks Canada’s chief of underwater archaeology, says “that [if] it is related to Franklin, then it could be important.” 

You can read the whole Montreal Gazette story here.