Category Archives: Cathedrals

Entrance Tickets – Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds Castle

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

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The Story of an Aussie in the English Fens (Part Three)

Matthew Flinders 01 (2)

The really big thing about visiting the obscure village of Donington is that this is the birthplace of Matthew Flinders and Matthew Flinders is a really big thing for Australian visitors.

This is what I find fascinating about travel, every now and again I come across an amazing story.  Flinders is one of the most important explorers in history and his home town was the tiny village of Donington in the south of Lincolnshire.

Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales.  The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form.  The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland.  There is a Tasmania of course.

Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.

001

In my Dad’s book that he gave to me before he died – “The Boys’ Book of Heroes”, there is Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake and James Cook but no mention of Matthew Flinders. Neither did he get a nomination in the BBC poll of the Hundred Greatest Britons.  Cook made twelfth place, Drake came in at forty-ninth and Raleigh at ninety-third.

In English history he is a forgotten hero.  In web site lists of famous people he never gets a mention, he doesn’t even make it on to lists of famous explorers.

He couldn’t really be included in the poll of Greatest Australians of course because he came from Donington in Lincolnshire in England, but wait just a minute because he was included at number fifty as an honorary Australian along with James Cook from Yorkshire.

I could write a complete blog post about Matthew Flinders but John has promised to do that sometime soon and he knows a lot more about Flinders than I do so I will leave that to him.

We visited the village market square where he was born.  The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements.  Again, I will leave this to John to explain when he writes his post.

One thing that I will mention is about finding his coffin.  England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago.  The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.

Flinders Coffin

The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.

Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia and I said to John that how lucky he was to be among the first to come and he nodded in agreement.

He agreed again that he would write the story.

“People will come Ray, people will come…”

After coffee we left Donington for the final stop on the whistle-stop tour of The Fens.

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The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Two)

Crowland Abbey 05

Crowland is only a small market town (without a market as we had been recently informed) so, with nothing to detain us it was just a short walk from the Trinity Bridge to nearby Crowland Abbey, once a Benedictine Monastery and now, what’s left of it, the Parish Church.

Monks seeking solitude have always sought out remote places to live and the inhospitable marshlands of Eastern England were once perfect for this purpose.  The Fens have been referred to as the “Holy Land of the English” because of the former monasteries and Abbeys at Crowland, Ely, Peterborough, Ramsey, Spalding and Thorney.

The Fens have a special place in English history, here Hereward the Wake led resistance to the Norman invaders and here King John lost the Crown Jewels in the murky waters at Sutton Bridge.

There was a monastery at Crowland because of the hermit monk Guthlac who settled here sometime in the seventh century.  Now, Guthlac was clearly as mad as a box of frogs – this is an extract from his chronicler…

“Guthlac the man of blessed memory began to dwell, after building a hut over it. From the time when he first inhabited this hermitage this was his unalterable rule of life: namely to wear neither wool nor linen garments nor any other sort of soft material, but he spent the whole of his solitary life wearing garments made of skins. So great indeed was the abstinence of his daily life that from the time when he began to inhabit the desert he ate no food of any kind except that after sunset he took a scrap of barley bread and a small cup of muddy water.”

This is Guthlac who seems to have been cleaned up a bit for his stained glass window portrait in Crowland Abbey…

St Guthlac Window

Guthlac became famous for dealing with demons, self flagellation, performing miracles and providing sagely advice and the Abbey was founded and built as a place of important pilgrimage for medieval pilgrims.  It was dissolved in 1539 along with another estimated eight hundred religious houses in England during the English Reformation. The monastic buildings including the chancel, transepts and crossing of the church were demolished and plundered fairly promptly but the nave and aisles were spared and to this day serve as the Parish Church.

Saint Guthlac remains important in the Fens and there are several churches in the area that are dedicated to his memory.

Crowland Abbey 01

We walked around the grounds and through the ruins of the Abbey and then finding the church door open ventured inside.  I was slightly surprised to find it open because these days church doors often remain firmly locked due to the increase in vandalism and theft.  There was no such bother sixty years ago or so when we went on family holiday and my Dad visited almost every church we passed by – he liked visiting churches – unlike other holiday attractions they were free to enter.

John declared the visit to Crowland to be a great success but there was much more to see and do so we left Crowland and drove north to the town of Spalding which was once famous for an annual Flower Parade.

John was surprised to discover that the road we were using was no more than three feet above sea level and the surrounding fields were even lower, well below sea level.  These low lying fenland areas extend over one thousand, five hundred square miles extending through Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.  Much of the Fenland originally consisted of fresh or salt-water wetlands. These have been drained and continue to be protected from floods by drainage banks and pumps. With the support of this drainage system, the Fenland has become a major arable agricultural region in Britain for grain, vegetables and cash-crops.

Fens Farmland

The Fens are particularly fertile, containing around half of the grade one agricultural land in England.  Spalding in the area of South Holland is a thriving district at the very heart of the UK’s agri-food sector and it is estimated that a staggering 35% of the UK’s food, either grown, processed or delivered will pass through South Holland at some point in its production cycle.

We stopped briefly in Spalding to visit the grounds of Ayscoughfee Hall a medieval manor house which is now a museum, walked for a stretch along the river and admired the elegant Georgian houses across the water and then continued our journey to our next destination – the village of Donington.

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Thursday Doors, Wroclaw in Poland

 

Four Palaces and a Bar…

Wroclaw Door 01Wroclaw Door 02Wroclaw Door 03Wroclaw Door 04Wroclaw Door 05Wroclaw Door 06

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Entrance Tickets, The Fortress at Castelsardo in Sardinia

Castelsardo

“(Sardinia) reminds me of Malta: lost between Europe and Africa and belonging to nowhere. Belonging to nowhere, never having belonged to anywhere.  To Spain and the Arabs and the Phoenicians most.  But as if it had never really had a fate.  Left outside of time and history.” D H Lawrence – ‘Sea and Sardinia’

After lunch we made our way towards the old town and the fortress set at the very top of the rocky outcrop.  At the lower levels there were souvenir shops selling usual tourist trash and after ignoring these we tackled slippery steep stone steps worn down by the passage of time and feet.

At the top we paid our 3€ entrance fee and passed through the gates into the recently restored castle and centro storico where waiting for us at the top there was a breath-taking 360° panorama of the land and the sea.

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Postcard From Delft, the Netherlands

Delft

After the cramped alleys and the narrow streets the Market Place was in complete contrast – a vast cobbled open space with elegant gabled houses, shops and bars.  The Renaissance town hall with its red shutters at one end and at the other the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) with its almost one hundred and ten metre tall spire (the second largest in the Netherlands after Utrecht) rising majestically into the sky like a needle.

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Newark-on-Trent, The English Civil War and The Castle

Newark Civil War Statue

After leaving the church I made my way through the elegant streets of Newark passing by half timbered medieval houses, grand Georgian mansions and rows of traditional shops.  In places it reminded me of The Shambles in York but without the crowds or the tourist tat shops.

My next destination was the National Civil War Museum because since my Dad bought me an Airfix model kit of Oliver Cromwell in about 1960 I have always been fascinated by the English Civil War.  I think this was a defining moment in my life, I immediately became a Roundhead, a Parliamentarian and later a socialist, on the side of the people fighting against wealth, influence, privilege and injustice.

There was also an Airfix model of Charles I but I had Cromwell first.

Crowell Charles Airfix

I also blame a book my Dad gave me about British heroes in which Cromwell was included but Charles Stuart wasn’t.

An illustration from the book…

Oliver Cromwell

In 2002 the BBC conducted a poll to identify the Greatest Briton and Cromwell came tenth, hard to believe that he could come behind Diana, Princess of Wales  and John Lennon but there you are, such is the nature of these polls and the mentality of the people who vote.  Two thousand years of history and Princess Diana and John Lennon make the top ten.  It leaves me speechless.

Due to its strategic significance linking north of the country with the south Newark had an important part to play in the Civil War and the town and its castle supported the Royalist cause and suffered in three destructive sieges which brought destruction, pestilence and disease to the town.  Parliamentary forces and their Scottish allies were desperate to oust the Royalist garrison. The last siege saw over sixteen thousand troops seal off the Nottinghamshire town and dam a river to stop water mills producing bread and gunpowder. An outbreak of typhus and plague added to Newark’s woes as the population swelled to six thousand as people fled to the town from the countryside, creating near starvation conditions.

A third of the inhabitants died and one in six buildings were destroyed.  Despite this calamity, the Royalist troops refused to give in.  The garrison were brave supporters of the King and the Cavaliers but eventually were obliged to surrender upon the inevitable capture of Charles.

It is an interesting museum but I found it a little disappointing, it is rather small and although it has some interesting exhibits the information boards and displays give only facts but not interpretation.  I wanted more than iron breast plates and plumed hats, more than flintlocks and helmets but I guess museums like these are for tourists rather than historians.

Newark Civil War Museum

I have always considered the English Civil War to be the most important conflict of modern Europe because this was a revolution which provided a blueprint for those that followed, principally the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The revolution begins with the moderates calling for reasonable and restrained reform for the exclusive benefit of the aforementioned wealthy and privileged who wanted even more power and wealth.  The problem with moderates of course is that they are on the whole reasonable people but by beginning a process of reform they provide an opportunity  for radicals and agitators to go much further and the English Revolution like those that followed swiftly gained pace.  After the radicals came the extremists, then war, then terror, then regicide.

The English Civil War swept away the supremacy of the Church of England, ended the Divine Right of Kings and embodied the principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty into UK politics.  It was the end of medieval feudalism and paved the way for the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the next century.  At its most radical period it introduced the principals of socialism and even communism through the power of the New Model Army and the social ambitions of the Diggers and the Levellers, both proto-socialist political movements.

It is a shame that King Charles had his head cut off but even after sixty years or so of being given that Airfix model I confess that I remain a loyal Roundhead rather than a Cavalier.

One thing that I did learn at the museum is that musket balls were made from lead and that 1lb of lead would make twelve balls and that this is the origin of the twelve bore shotgun.

Newark Castle 01

I finished my day at the ruins of Newark Castle. Prior to the Civil War it was a grand medieval showpiece fortress but today it is an empty shell. The Parliamentarian forces blew it up and left it derelict to make sure that it could never again be used as a royalist obstacle to parliamentary supremacy.  After the troops were obliged to leave it fell into disrepair and to the mercy of stone thieves who dismantled it as a convenient supply of building material until we are left with what we see today.

It is still rather grand, especially when viewed from the opposite bank of the River Trent but beyond the outer east wall nothing remains except the ghosts of history and pleasant modern gardens.

I had enjoyed my day at Newark-on-Trent and as I drove away I thought to myself that it was about time that I spent more days in the United Kingdom.

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