Category Archives: Cathedrals

A to Z of Postcards – N is Northern France

Guidebooks say that Abbeville was once an attractive place but it was destroyed in the German blitzkrieg of 1940 when the town was reduced to rubble as the German Panzer divisions advanced towards the English Channel but I have to say that I found the rebuilt modern town to be very attractive itself, so attractive as it happens that I can only begin to imagine just how picturesque the original town might once have been.

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A to Z of Postcards – M is for Montreuil Sur Mer in France

Montreuil was once an important strategic town on the English Channel but by the nineteenth century after the sea had withdrawn over ten miles away which meant getting a boat in the water was becoming increasingly difficult it had become a sleepy medieval town of no real importance except for passengers on the coaching road from Calais to Paris.

The weather was accommodating and we enjoyed good views across the surrounding countryside.  Our stroll returned us to the centre of the classic French market town and we walked through its attractive streets with its lively fountains and vibrant floral displays, its  shops, restaurants and cafés  and we finished back in the town square right next to a convenient bar where we had a drink before moving on.

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A to Z of Postcards – G is for Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria was formed by a volcano that grew out of the sea and continued to spew enough lava onto the surface to break through the ocean and form an island.  It is circular in shape with a mountain peak in the middle which separates the island into two distinct sectors, north and south.  Viewed from above it looks rather like a beached jellyfish.

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A to Z of Postcards – E is for Extremadura

This part of the journey was reminder of just how big Spain is as we motored for mile after mile without meeting any other traffic or without passing through towns or villages.  The road just kept grinding endlessly on in an easterly direction in a way that reminded me of the tortuous journey through Andalusia in a clapped out Ford Escort in 1986.

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A to Z of Postcards – D is for Dublin (Part 2)

Narrow cobbled streets with beer bottle tops crushed for near eternity into the tarmac joints, winking like silver coins and capturing the memories of wild party nights and happy drinking, brightly coloured buildings decorated with hanging baskets with brassy flowers spilling over like floral waterfalls and enthusiastic street entertainers on every corner.

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A to Z of Postcards – C is for Cantabria

I had always thought of Spain as a Mediterranean country but closer inspection of the map shows that a third of the Country’s coastline is along the much more dramatic Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian coast is over two hundred kilometres of panoramic beaches, hidden coves tucked into the pleats of the cliffs, green headlands and little towns where fishing boats shelter below harbour cafés.

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A to Z of Postcards – B is for Benidorm

Sixty years ago Benidorm, although not a fishing village as such, was still a modest beach side community, a place of sailors, fishermen and farmers who patiently tended almond, olive, carob and citrus trees.  Early visitors would have looked out over a double crescent of virgin golden sand and rolling dunes that stretched out in both directions from a rocky outcrop that divided the two beaches where Benidorm castle is believed to have once stood.

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Entrance Tickets – The Achilleion Palace in Corfu

In Corfu we visited the Achilleion at Gastouri, in between Perama and Benitses, which is a casino and a museum now but was once a summer Palace built in 1890 by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria who was a curious woman obsessed with the classical Homeric hero Achilles and with all things beautiful (including herself apparently).

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East Yorkshire – Saint John of Bridlington

On day three of our mini-holiday in East Yorkshire, the heatwave predictably broke, clouds returned, the temperature plummeted and the panic was all over.  This is England not the Costa Blanca.

So we made the short car journey to nearby Bridlington.  Bridlington remains a busy seaside resort because it still has a railway service and after the city of Hull is the second largest settlement in East Yorkshire.

We decided against the harbour and the beach because we had been there previously and quite frankly it is a bit too much English seasidy for us and the seagulls are a nuisance and went instead to the old town.  Free Parking! Where can you find Free Parking these days? Answer – Bridlington Old Town.

The historical centre of Bridlington is absolutely wonderful.

A cobbled street of rapid decay locked into a bygone age, the original Georgian shop windows are grubby, the displays are many decades out of date, the window frames are flaking and pock-marked, no wonder then that they choose this location for filming the remake of the comedy series ‘Dad’s Army’ in 2014. Being a huge ‘Dad’s Army’ fan I was really happy about wandering along this special street and made a note to watch the film when I was back at home. And I did!

We parked the car close to the Bayle Museum, the original fortified gatehouse to Bridlington Priory.  It had free admission so I wasn’t expecting a great deal but as it turned out it was well  worth almost an hour of time spent exploring the seven rooms and the history of Bridlington.  So good in fact that I didn’t have to think twice about paying a voluntary contribution on the way out.  That is unusual for me.

Next we visited the nearby Priory.  In the days of its medieval glory Bridlington Priory was one of the great monastic houses of England. Its wealth and possessions made it a key monastery in the North, one of the largest and richest of the Augustinian order.  The Priory is just a church now and a fraction of its previous size courtesy of the insistence of Henry VIII that it should be demolished in 1537 to remove the potential Catholic pilgrimage site of Saint John of Bridlington.  Henry didn’t like Catholic Saints and Pilgrimages as this challenged his new self-appointed role as Head of the Church of England.

Saint John of Bridlington, it turns out is one of the most famous of English Saints and I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of him before now.

A little about John courtesy of Wiki…

Born in 1320 in the village of Thwing on the Yorkshire Wolds, about nine miles west of Bridlington, educated at a school in the village from the age of five, completing his studies at Oxford University and then entered the Augustinian Canons Regular community of Bridlington Priory. He carried out his duties with humility and diligence, and was in turn novice master, almsgiver, preacher and sub-prior. He became Canon of the Priory in 1346 and was eventually elected Prior in 1356. He served as Prior for 17 years before his death on 10 October 1379.

During his lifetime he enjoyed a reputation for great holiness and for miraculous powers. It is claimed that on one occasion he changed water into wine. He brought people back from the dead and restored a blind man’s sight.  On another, five seamen from Hartlepool in danger of shipwreck called upon God in the name of John, whereupon the prior himself walked on water and appeared to them and brought them safely to shore. 

It seems that anything Jesus could do, John of Bridlington could match.

So good was John at performing miracles that according to legend he continued to perform them even after he had died of the plague and he continued to bring people back from the dead for some time.  That’s a very good trick if you can do it.  These days I imagine John would be admitted to the Magic Circle.

John of Bridlington was canonised and declared a Saint by Pope Boniface in 1401, he was the last English Saint before the Reformation and the dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

A Saint has to be a patron Saint of something and although John is associated with fishing the patron saint of fishermen had already been bagged by Saint Andrew (I will make you Fishers of Men and all that stuff) so Saint John needed something else.  The Spanish Saint Raymond Nonnat is the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth but Saint John is very specifically the patron saint of difficult childbirth.  I kid you not.  You could not make it up.

The best bit about the church was a side chapel reserved for prayer where people are invited to leave a note requesting a prayer (or a miracle).  This one was my favourite…

Other Unlikely Saint Stories…

Saint James and Santiago de Compostella

Saint Patrick and Ireland

Saint Spiridon and Corfu

Saint Janurius and the Miracle of the Blood

The Feast of Saint Paul’s Shipwreck

 

East Yorkshire – Withernsea, Erosion, a Pier and a Lighthouse

Leaving Spurn Head we travelled north along a road with more curves than Marilyn Monroe towards the seaside town of Withernsea.

On the way we drove through the unfortunate village of Easington and I say unfortunate because in the local Coastal Management Plan Easington is identified as a place not worth defending against the advancing sea and one day it will be gone.  It is called ‘managed retreat’.  I don’t know how long this will take but I noticed that the pubs were shut and there were no shops.

The advance of the sea is relentless.  The coastline here is the fastest area of erosion in the UK.  Every year six foot of land is swept away, an estimated average of two million tonnes which is moved south on the tides towards the Humber estuary and builds land there whilst it takes it away here.

On a previous visit I once came across an official looking man in a hard hat and a high visibility jacket who was taking photographs and making notes.  His name was Brian and I asked him about the erosion.  He explained to me that the problem is that this coastline really shouldn’t be here at all because it is made up of unconsolidated soft clay and small stones called glacial till that were scooped up from the sea bed by a glacier as it advanced south during the last ice age and dumped here as the ice eventually melted and receded north about ten thousand years ago.  It is just soft clay with the consistency and the look of a crumbly Christmas Cake that simply cannot resist the power of the waves.  In that time an area of land twelve miles wide has been eroded away and returned to the sea bed where it came from.

I didn’t have high expectations of Withernsea, I can’t explain why but I liked it immediately and we walked to the sea front and the Pier Tower entrance.  I say pier but there is no pier here anymore.   Built in 1877 it didn’t last very long as ships and boats kept running into it and by 1900 it had gone.

No one in England lives more than seventy miles* or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by the time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline.  If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.

English piers you see are rather fragile structures and over the years have had an alarming tendency to catch fire – Weston-Super-Mare, Brighton, Blackpool, Eastbourne, and Great Yarmouth have all suffered this fate but Southend-on-Sea is probably the most unfortunate of all because it has burned down four times which seems rather careless.

The problem with a pier of course is that they are generally constructed of wood and are highly combustible and a quarter of a mile or so out to sea they are also rather inaccessible to the fire service so once they go up in flames little can be done but to watch the blazing inferno from the safety of the promenade until the fire goes out by itself and all that is left is a tangle of twisted metal girders and beams.

There was once a railway line to Withernsea out of Hull which made it a busy seaside resort bringing visitors from South Yorkshire but it is long gone, swept away as part of the railway reforms of the 1960s, visitors stopped coming and today, tucked away on the far east coast it is too remote to attract holiday makers, they go to Bridlington a few miles further north which still has its railway line.

Pictures from the website https://withernsea1.co.uk/index.html

I always like to see how far a name has travelled and my research tells me that there is a Withernsea in Maryland USA, close to Washington DC and in British Columbia, Canada.

After a bag of proper Yorkshire chips and a Belgian lager we made our way now to the top visitor attraction in Withernsea – the lighthouse.  It is no longer used for its intended purpose, everything in Withernsea is redundant it seems but is now a museum with an energy sapping climb to the very top with some good views over the town and the North Sea.

* Based on a direct line drawn on an Ordnance Survey map from location to the first coast with tidal water, the village that is further from the sea than any other human settlement in the UK is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at exactly seventy miles in all directions…