Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Cornwall: Rambling Around Boscastle

Boscastle is a beautiful village on the west coast of Cornwall, about halfway down the Cornish peninsula. I had been here before, and I was thrilled to have a chance to come back. My visit in 2016 was only for a few hours, but this time I was staying there with my sisters for five days. We would use our b&b as a base for exploring other parts of Cornwall so in a sense this house would be our home sweet home.

But a person could easily find enough to fill their days right there in Boscastle. The coast trail passes right through the village, offering walks with stunning vistas both north and south of the town. There are shops galore, quaint buidings, and of course, the British Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

I stayed in the village one morning to explore the museum and to just enjoy the village and peoplewatch, while my sisters, who were not interested in the museum, hiked the coast trail. I hated to miss that, but this was to be my one window of opportunity to visit the museum and explore the village.

First, coming into Boscastle: here the road is actually two lanes but for several miles it was a narrow one-lane road. That gray area beyond the green is the sea.





This next photo was taken on the other road into town, a road that ran through what we called "the enchanted forest," a long green tunnel of overhanging tree branches that was truly, well, enchanting.
Then there was this row of cottages, right on the road, which as you can see is one lane, and yes, that's a blind curve ahead with very little wiggle room. We could never stop to take photos on this road, sadly, it was just too dangerous.


The entrance to our b&b driveway was distinctive: two witches' cauldrons!


This is, I believe, the River Valency, that runs between stone walls on either side. There are two rivers that run through the village, the River Jordan being the other.


A charming little shop that I didn't have a chance to visit, as it was closed.

The sway-back old building looks like it might have been a church at one time; today it is a restaurant.


We followed the river to the harbor, and so to the sea.


Theresa found a nice seat, while Judy clambered around on the rocks. This rock is actually black slate, and is used for roofs, siding and other building purposes. At one time it looks like this stone right at the harbor was even quarried.



Walking back towaard the village. The path is steeper than it appears in the photo. The long white building is the youth hostel where one can stay very reasonably if shared rooms and bathrooms are not an issue.



Boscastle has always been a fishing village and while fishing is still an occupation here, tourism has probably replaced it as the main source of the town's income.


The George Hotel. I kinda wish we'd stayed here! I mean, a turret, an old mill wheel, and you know there has to be a ghost or two.






Another interesting place to stay.


Tomorrow, the British Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The Tor and the Thorn: Glastonbury



 
Stand on top of the Tor, and see the Salisbury Plain spread below like a tapestry, and it's easy to imagine King Arthur and of Guinevere riding with their court across the green lands around Glastonbury:

The hills have on their royal robes
        Of purple and of gold,
And over their tops the autumn clouds
        In heaps are onward rolled;
Below them spreads the fairest plain
        That British eye may see--
From Quantock to the Mendip range,
        A broad expanse and free.

-excerpt from The Ballad of Glastonbury by Henry Alford (1810-1871)



Glastonbury has inspired poets and writers for centuries, most notably William Wordsworth, who wrote several poems, all similar in theme, about Salisbury Plain. Today Glastonbury hosts a festival that includes a popular poetry and spoken word stage.

Is that a knight behind me??? I don't recall anyone being behind me when I snapped this selfie.

And no wonder this place inspires writers.

My sisters and I made an early start to climb Glastonbury Tor, a high, oddly-shaped hill that dominates the flat plains that surround it. You might think, as I did, that the hill was manmade, since there are so many mounds and standing stones in the area, but the Tor (which simply means hill) is a natural formation.
A cheery little robin greeted us as we started up the path.
The beginning of the path. You can see the tip of the tower to left top center.

Our b&b was located just a few feet from the footpath leading up the Tor. We were glad to be there early, as the air was still cool and there were few people around. The path is steep, some of it steps, a bit of it concrete and some just gravel. It but basically goes almost straight up. The Tor is 518 feet above sea level, while the town surrounding it is only 42 feet above sea level, so you can see how steep the incline of the hill is.

But the climb is well worth the work. The view is 360 degrees, and simply stunning.


The tower on top of the hill is St. Michael's Tower, and was built in the 1300's as part of a church. There was another church that pre-dated St' Michael's, built of wood, but it was destroyed by a huge earthquake in 1275 (I would never think of an earthquiake in England!).


The acoustics in the roofless tower are pretty nice. I tried out a song up there just to see, and some visitors from Portugal seemed to enjoy it. There is just something about singing in such ancient, stories places.

There is a legend that Guinevere was once kept prisoner in St. Michael's Tower. The website Early British Kingdoms gives this story as the basis of the legend:

"In Caradog of Llancarfan's Life of St. Gildas, written around 1130, can be found a story telling of St. Gildas' intervention between King Arthur and one King Melwas of the "Summer Country". Melwas had abducted Guinevere to his stronghold at Glastonbury, where Arthur soon arrived to besiege him. However, Gildas, ever the peacemaker, persuaded Melwas to release the Guinevere and the two monarchs soon reconciled their differences. The story can also be found in a Welsh poem known as The Dialogue of Melwas and Gwenhwyfar, the surviving manuscripts of which date from the 16th century. Chr├ętien is best known for his use of the episode in his Lancelot story, but here the Knight was said to have killed Melwas (alias Meleagaunce), while St. Gildas is never mentioned." 

The website also notes archeolgical findings that indicate the Tor has been used for religious/spiritual purposes as far back as neolithic times.

A seashell in the stone, this far from the sea.




My sisters examining the directional disc on top of the Tor.

We noticed that there was another, perhaps even steeper and more direct route up the Tor, but we opted to go back down the way we came up. We passed many other "pilgrims" making their way up the hill, and a circle in a small, slightly flatter area was evidently involved in a spiritual ritual of their own. This wasn't surprising, as the whole area around Glastonbury is home to many groups of all kinds of spiritual leanings, from pagans and witches to fundamental Christians and many others. Many people believe the area has a mystical power, and tours bring people there for spiritual pilgrimages. 

After getting back to our car at the b&b, we made our way to the town of Glastonbury. The GPS did not fail to mislead us once again, and what should have been a 5-minute trip turned into an hour's drive. Ah me. 

St. Peter's Chapel

Old abbey ruins in Glastonbury are fascinating to visit. A small chapel (St. Peter's) built in the 11th century is a reminder of how short people were in the past--the door was about 5 1/2 feet tall. 

Such lovely gardens.



In the garden of the abbey is a tree that I wrote about in this post. The Glastonbury Thorn, the original of which supposedly sprung from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea who, as legend has it, visited the area and pushed his walking stick into the ground, where it took root. Also according to legend, the tree would bloom twice a year, once in the Spring (around Easter) and again in the winter around Christmas. 


Yet another old legend says that the graves of Arthur and Guinevere are at Glastonbury, and indeed in the 1100's the monks of the abbey claimed that they had dug up the (neatly labeled) graves. The.re is some doubt about this claim, as the discovery came very neatly at a time when the abbey was in dire need of funds. The site is still marked today, however. 


There is yet another story that the graves are actually on the Tor. So who knows? There are of course many who think that Arthur never existed, and the stories are only just that, stories for entertainment. I think I prefer to believe in the myth of Arthur and his Round Table. Glastonbury, by the way, is believed to be the place called Avalon in Arthurian legends.


One of the best-preserved buildings of the abbey is the Abbott's Kitchen. 




It's a spectacular round building with ovens on all sides, and it's evident that enormous quantities of food could have been prepared in there. Again, wonderful acoustics. I sang again, not my best but this time I remembered to record:



Finally it was lunch time. We found a nice cafe with outdoor tables, and enjoyed watching the colorful parade of people on Glastonbury's interesting streets.



Finally, it was time to leave Glastonbury and begin the next leg of our journey: to Boscastle, in Cornwall.


Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Monday, September 16, 2019

White Horse and Salisbury Cathedral

We were fortunate on our trip to England to only have one rainy day. And boy, did it rain. By the end of the day we were chilled and damp through, but we had plans and we stuck to them.

Our first stop was Avebury. Once again the GPS took us on a long roudabout trip that could have been much shorter. But on the plus side, we got a wonderful surprise. The Westbury White Horse:


We had heard of these white horses, made from local chalk stone, but coming upon this one was unexpected and delightful. The origin and age of this horse is not clear; some believe it commemorates a battle at the site in which King Alfred was victorious, in 878, but historians disagree about this legend. No matter its origin, it's still a stunning site. The horse has been restored and repaired numerous times, recently to remove graffiti by vandals protesting the Iraq War.

The place we stopped to photograph it was interesting in itself.




At this point the rain had not yet begun, but by the time we reached Avebury it was raining in earnest. Our visit to the stones was not as enjoyable as it could have been, and we didn't linger long in looking at them. I know I was most happy to sit down to some hot tea after walking about the stones!

I took no photos at Avebury this time, but you can see photos and read this historic site from my 2016 trip to the stones on this blog post. I was cold, holding an umbrella, and getting wet, not conducive to taking pictures.

We left Avebury for Salisbury, but not before being talked into buying memberships in The National Trust. It looked from the brochure we were given as if we might actually save money on our visits to various historic places, but learned later than many of those places were "English Heritage" sites, and required a different membership. In the end, I think we at least broke even, and if not, then we donated to a good cause.

The rain was lighter but steady when we reached Salisbury.

My sisters were interested in seeing this cathedral, and I was interested in seeing the original copy of the Magna Carta kept at the cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral
The entrat gate to the cathedral grounds

The Magna Carta at Salisbury is one of four of the original copies of the document still in existence. (Alas, no photos allowed!) The Magna Carta was the "charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215.[b] First drafted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of 25 barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons' War," according to Wikipedia. It is still valued for its declaration of freedoms and rights that we still value to this day. So while it was not implemented as promised at the time of signing, eventually these ideals became part of accepted human rights in many countries across the globe.

The original church on this site was built originally in 1025, with the current cathedral begun in 1220. It boasts of the tallest spire in the United Kingdom, and the church and cloister cover over 80 acres! There is a tour one can take of the spire itself, which we did not know about or we certainly would have taken. Still, the cathedral itself was full of wondrous beauty, and along with all the other things to see, there is a clock which is one of the oldest working clocks in the world.



Someone tried to break into the glass covering of the Magna Carta with a hammer. The vandal was speedily caught. What a shame that people want to destroy history like this.


Some cathedral views:



Britain has not forgotten the two World Wars. We saw poppy wreaths in many places, including here at the cathedral. These were honoring American airmen who died in the second world war.


Choir practice in progress:




Wedding photos were also in progress while we were there:


One of the tombs. I did not note who these people were, sadly. But what a way to be comemmorated.

Back outside on the rainy streets, we went in search of hot tea and food.

A busy town, for sure.



We found it just up the street in a nice little pub. Then we found our way to Glastonbury, where we would spend the night in preparation for our next day's adventure: Glastonbury Tor and the Glastonbury Abbey.


Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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