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).


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.

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.

Grand Openings for McGirt-Horton Branch Library and Greensboro Historical Museum’s “Voices of a City” Exhibit

Part of the "Voices of a City" exhibit at Greensboro Historical Museum.

Just in case you don’t know, Summer 2010 has witnessed two very important events for the Greensboro Public Library system. 

First, just this past week our McGirt-Horton branch library moved into a beautiful new building.  

Just a bit of history:  In 1986 the McGirt-Horton Branch Library opened as a one-room community reading station in Claremont Courts.  The Library soon outgrew that space and moved in 1989 to a leased facility in a shopping center on Phillips Avenue.  In 2006, voters approved $3.5 million to construct a new 10,000 square foot library. 

The new building is located in the same shopping center where the branch was formerly located at the corner of Phillips and Woodbriar Avenue.  This building will be one of the first LEED Certified libraries in North Carolina.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is concerned with many aspects of “green building.”

When you’re in the neighborhood, please drop by the McGirt-Horton Library.  We’d love to see you!

Secondly, in late July, Greensboro Historical Museum opened its new state-of-the-art 8,000 square foot exhibit entitled “Voices of a City:  Greensboro, North Carolina,” consisting of a tapestry of first-person observations and remembrances that tell the story of Greensboro’s history dating back to the early 1700s.

The galleries that make up “Voices of a City” present Greensboro’s history in eight thematic sections, blending historical artifacts, photos, portraits, letters and other documents with the latest technology to enhance each museum visitor’s experience.  Multi-sensory media used in “Voices” include video stations, hand-held audio wands, interactive touch screens providing written and visual information, audio of oral history recordings and ambient sound.

If you haven’t had a chance to do so yet, please come to the Museum to see this interesting new exhibit about the history of Greensboro.

Site of Lost Civil War Prison Found in Georgia

Most everyone has probably heard of the infamous Andersonville prison camp where thousands of captured Union soldiers died of starvation and disease during the Civil War.  Andersonville’s Confederate commander, Henry H. Wirz, was later tried and convicted for war crimes. 

But probably few have heard of the prison which replaced it, Lawton Camp.  And now that prison’s location, long forgotten, has been rediscovered, it was announced Monday in Georgia. 

Hundreds also died there, but when invading Federal cavalry happened upon Lawton Camp in late 1864, they destroyed virtually every vestige of it, so enraged were they by the sight of a huge mass grave where their comrades in arms had been buried. 

Located in Magnolia State Park just north of Millen and in a section of Georgia which has been particularly hard hit by the Great Recession, residents are hopeful the prison camp site will attract visitors and help boost the local economy.  The far better known Andersonville site is visited by well over 100,000 people per year. 

If you’d like to learn more about Civil War prisons, Greensboro Public Library has plenty of resources.  Try some of these items:  Libby Prison Breakout: the Daring Escape from the Notorious Civil War Prison by Joseph Wheelan; The Horrors of Andersonville:  Life and Death Inside a Civil War Prison by Catherine Gourley (young adult); Escape from Andersonville:  A Novel of the Civil War by Gene Hackman (fiction); Andersonville (DVD of film drama); Andersonville Journey by Edward F. Roberts; Portals to Hell:  Military Prisons of the Civil War by Lonnie R. Speer.

More on the Lost Ships of the Franklin Expedition

Nearly a year ago we blogged on how rising temperatures and the melting Arctic ice meant a race was on to find the HMS Erebus and Terror, the lost ships of Sir John Franklin’s expedition, which became ice-bound during a search for the Northwest Passage in the 1840s.

As I wrote last September,

For those unacquainted with the story, the Franklin Expedition set sail from England in 1845 in search of the Northwest Passage, a route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the Arctic Ocean along the northern coast of North America. 

By September, 1846, the ships had become trapped in ice off King William Island and were finally abandoned by their crews in April, 1848. 

Eventually the whole of both crews — 128 men in all — would perish, most probably from starvation, though not before resorting to cannibalism; other factors in their demise may have been scurvy and lead poisoning.  According to a message left behind and discovered by a search party in a cairn in 1859, Franklin himself had died in June, 1847.

Despite repeated efforts to locate the vessels over the last century and a half, their final resting places still remain a great mystery.  But if found, owing to the low temperatures in the Arctic, they are likely to be extraordinarily well-preserved, veritable time capsules of information about the expedition and its fate. 

As I said in my earlier post, these lost wrecks rouse the imaginations of historians, explorers, and adventurers to an unprecedented degree, much like Robert Ballard’s quest for the HMS Titanic did many years ago — so much so in fact that the Erebus and Terror are not unjustifiably called the “Holy Grail of marine archaeology.”      

Last September’s post was prompted by publicizing of yet another search to be led by Rob Rondeau of Procom Diving Services, a private effort which had conflicted with the Canadian government over its failure to consult with local authorities.

More to the government’s liking is the approach of Parks Canada, which relies heavily upon testimonies and traditions of native Inuits on the fate of the Franklin Expedition.

Now there’s word of a new Parks Canada effort to find the ships — they had earlier mounted a search in 2008 — and in addition to their quest for the Erebus and Terror Parks Canada will also be looking for a lost rescue ship which sailed from England in 1848, the HMS Investigator.

If you’re as intrigued as I am by the story of the Franklin Expedition and the efforts to solve the mystery of these lost ships, try Scott Cookman’s Ice Blink:  The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Tragic Polar ExpeditionBuried in Ice by Owen Beattie and John Geiger (juvenile); The Man Who Ate His Boots:  The Tragic History of the Search for the Northwest Passage by Anthony Brandt; The Arctic Grail:  The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909 by Pierre Berton; Ordeal by Ice:  The Search for the Northwest Passage by Farley Mowat; or Across the Top of the World:  The Quest for the Northwest Passage by James P. Delgado, all available from Greensboro Public Library.

Brown University Expedition Locates Tomb of Mayan Ruler

In the jungles of Guatemala, a Brown University expedition has discovered an extraordinary tomb of a Mayan ruler believed to be 1,600 years old, it was reported on MondayHere’s a link to another good article on the find. 

Led by archaeologist Stephen Houston, the Brown team’s find is being compared to that of King  Tutankhamen, which remains the most complete tomb of an Egyptian ruler yet discovered. 

The site is located in the Mayan city of El Zotz, and from the top of the temple-pyramid where the burial is located the famous site of Tikal can be seen in the distance.  The ruler’s tomb was situated deep within the temple and well-sealed — so much so that when the chamber was opened fragile textiles were still preserved and a faint smell of putrefaction could be detected. 

In addition to the textile fragments and bones of at least seven individuals, investigators found ceramics, jade, and even residues of foodstuffs.  Houston speculates the tomb must have belonged to a very important individual, perhaps the founder of a dynasty. 

If you’re interested in the ancient Mayan civilization of Central America, you may like some of the following items available from Greensboro Public Library:  Secrets of the Maya, from the editors of Archaeology magazine; The Fall of the Ancient Maya:  Solving the Mystery of the Maya Collapse by David Webster; Secrets in Stone:  All About Maya Hieroglyphs by Laurie Coulter (juvenile); The Maya World:  The Rough Guide, written and researched by Peter Eltringham, John Fisher and Iain Stewart with additional research by Alex Robinson, Dominique Young and Nastasha Ward; and Maya:  The Blood of Kings (DVD).

Remains of 18th Century Ship Found on WTC Site

The site of the future World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City was back in the news this week when workers Tuesday stumbled upon the hull of an 18th century ship.   Here’s another link with a lot of pictures from Reuters.

Found during an excavation for an underground vehicle security center, the thirty-foot vessel was probably buried with other fill in the 19th century in order to extend the Manhattan shoreline into the Hudson. 

As soon as archaeologists learned of the discovery, they hurried to the WTC location knowing the ancient timbers, now exposed to air, would rapidly deteriorate.

Of course, most times shipwrecks are not found on dry land but rather underwater, and if you’re interested in underwater archaeology Greensboro Public Library may have a book or two for you.  Try some of these recent titles:  Shipwrecks:  Exploring Sunken Cities Beneath the Sea by Mary M. Cerullo (juvenile); The Incredible Quest to Find the Titanic by Brad Matsen (juvenile); The H.L. Hunley:  The Secret Hope of the Confederacy by Tom Chaffin; Raising the Hunley:  The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine by Brian Hicks and Schuyler Kropf; Titanic:  The Last Great Images by Robert Ballard with Ian Coutts; Treasure Hunt:  Shipwreck, Diving, and the Quest for Treasure in An Age of Heroes by Peter Earle; Shipwreck by Richard Platt; and Treasure Ship:  The Legend and Legacy of the S.S. Brother Jonathan by Dennis M. Powers.