Dispatch from Bath
The lull in posts can be explained simply: this past week contained a great deal of traveling. I left York on Wednesday (the 19th), I then had three nights in Canterbury (one of which was a day trip to Dover), then a relatively quick stop of two nights in Portsmouth, and now I’m in Bath for three nights. I may be on a type of vacation, but it’s still a great amount of work going from city to city.
The good news is that I have been keeping up with my photo editing…for the most part. York is basically done, though not completely uploaded to Flickr. Canterbury, Dover, and Portsmouth are on my computer and sorted; they are now waiting for me to start editing them. My hope is that I will be able to get to them tonight, my first night in Bath.
But that’s all boring logistical nonsense; I want to get to what I saw in York, a truly fascinating city. I wasn’t quite sure, at first, how to take the city. I came in on a Saturday night (the 15th) and the city was packed with bachelor and bachelorette parties (or stag and hen parties, as they seem to be called in the UK), and my hostel was equally packed with these groups. The city was also packed with roving bands of British sailors; they were the embodiment of sailors, every other word a swear and all. Luckily, it just ended up being a Saturday night thing, and the rest of the days were relatively calm.
I decided when I got into town that I wanted to do a ghost tour. I didn’t know this going in, but York is supposed to be the most haunted city in England…and, boy, do they play it up. When I flipped through the tourist booklet I got at check in, there were listings for five ghost tours, each saying they were the “original.” I picked the one that was the most convincing on being the original (The Ghost Hunt; really it was because it started on a street called “the Shambles,” and what ghost tour could be bad if it started on a street named such?) and off I went.
As it turned out, the tour wasn’t particularly scary or gruesome. But it was packed with English dry comedy, which I love. It also gave me a good look at the city, particularly at night. And it was cheap; only £5. A night’s entertainment, at such a small price; and, to boot, I went to a pub, the Crossed Keys, beforehand and had a great boar burger and two great pints of ale (Nicholson’s Pale Ale and Hawaii 340). The walk’s details were forgettable, but the enjoyment is still fresh in my mind. And that was the end of my first night in York.
The next day was a Sunday, and there was no way I was going to a cathedral on that day of the week! The other big highlight to do was the National Railway Museum. I’ve described the museum as such: a cross between the Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum Annex and a wonderland. They have about 30 train engines on display, including a Japanese Bullet train, multiple early (as in 1800s) train engines, and some truly beautiful engines from the glory days of rail (early 20th century). The one I found most beautiful was the Duchess of Hamilton; with her art-deco cover, she simply looked like something from Metropolis. The train I found most fascinating was the giant 4-8-4 KF Class No 7; easily the tallest train they had. And I found the displays they had on the Flying Scotsman, considered a national treasure, to be intriguing. Since it was a Sunday, the place was packed with kids; some, like me, bigger than the others.
Oh, and, yeah, there was a train that was a prop in a book/movie about a wizard. I’m sure some of you found that stuff interesting. I do not.
The Railway Museum easily took up the morning, and then I was tired. I decided that would be the end of the day’s adventures, other than getting another meal and some ale at a pub. Again, found both at a pub called the Three Tuns. Though I walked home in the rain, I wasn’t disappointed.
The next day was the York Minster. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect with the Minster. I had read some about it in my tour book before I got there, but it registered with me as just another cathedral. I’ve now been in the National Cathedral so many times, that they have slightly lost their awe factor. Also, I was kind of let down by Westminster Abbey in London; while not technically a cathedral, it’s built and operated like one. And so I was thinking I was going to walk into the Minster and say “oh, nice, it’s a cathedral…how long do I have to stay here?”
I really didn’t know what I was walking into. First, the York Minster is the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps. And you notice that, even if you’ve never been in a real Gothic cathedral. The ceiling seems to just keep going up and up…and up. As I found out on a tour later in the day, the ceiling is actually wood because the walls are so high they can’t support the weight of a typical stone roof. And as I said, the roof just keeps going up. Truly, I felt like it went to Heaven.
The next thing that got me was the organ. They played the organ for two solid hours, from 9am to 11am. It’s hard to describe the scene of walking through this beautiful church, with exquisite stain glass windows all around (50% of the original medieval stain glass in England is in the Minster), AND they’re playing a cathedral organ! The sound just enveloped you and you felt it through your body, in addition to hearing it. I made two recordings on my iPhone, and I’m trying to figure out how to get them off to share. They don’t do it justice, but they’ll do. As I figured out when I went to Canterbury Cathedral (the Minster’s rival), most places don’t do this.
The last part of the Minster I want to talk about is the Chapter House. The Chapter House is where the bishop of the cathedral, and the other office holders of the parish, would meet to discuss parish business. An octagon building, with a wooden dome roof, separate from the cathedral, and with seven breathtaking stain glass windows; when I walked through the archway, I was dumbfounded by its beauty. Then I started noticing the detailed carvings around the benches. Faces of people, demons, animals, demons attacking people, green men, Jesus suckling at Mary’s breast, a three faced woman, and a couple in an embrace; the skill and details were hard to keep up with. Once you thought you had seen it all, you looked a little closer and saw that there were still more detailed carvings.
After all that, the tower climb was anticlimactic. Not least because the north of England is pretty cold in the middle of September and it was windy. But, I added another great church to my list of climbs; it goes along side St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Florence. After being on my feet from 8am to 2pm, I took the rest of the afternoon off and had a nice nap.
Tuesday I’d set aside as a free day, to do whatever I felt like I wanted to do. And I had decided I wanted to circle the city along its walls. Yes, York still has (most of) its medieval walls, wonderfully adapted as a walking trail. So I got to experience making a tour of a city’s defenses; gave me a better appreciation for all the high fantasy I’ve read about a city encircled by walls. You wouldn’t think five foot walls are thick, until you’ve seen how hard five feet of stone is.
The only other stop I made was to Clifford Tower, the only part of the original York Castle which is still around. Funny how the city made such a point to preserve its walls, yet it let its castle be stripped away. Not much to say about it: a rather short tower on a rather large bailey (earthen mound). The views were good, but I had learned that most scenic vistas in York are obstructed with something (the city is basically flat; it was bound to happen). I found the mound to be the most fascinating part of the tower, and got many great pictures incorporating it.
That may not sound like a full day, but walking a circuit of about 4.5 miles can take up much of the day. And that basically finished up York. The next morning I got out pretty early to head south, and the relative warmth of Canterbury, via London. (I mention the warmth because for the previous two days my hostel had no hot water. And I did mention that York is cold in the middle of September?)
I’m thinking through a post on Canterbury, Dover, and Portsmouth. Honestly, these places haven’t been the best, because I’ve spent so little time in them, met very few people, and the accommodations have been trying. For example: in Canterbury, my room had no lock on the door, so I was paranoid about my belongings all the time. And in Portsmouth, I had incredibly cramped quarters and one of my roommates smelled…horribly; as in to the point of me nearly getting sick from the smell. So I need a little more space to figure out what I think of them. Still, saw the sights I wanted to see: Canterbury Cathedral, White Cliffs of Dover, and HMS Victory; so not a complete disaster.
I’m now in Bath and this is supposed to be a highlight. Tomorrow will be the city itself and the Roman bathes, where the city gets its name. I hope I have enough time here, because the other day is a day trip to Glastonbury, one of my entire travels main destinations. I will not be happy if I don’t stand on Glastonbury Tor this week. And after that, it’s on to Bristol to see my friends Ceri and Jarlath. More will come.