And we’re off…

I have wanted to see the heather in Scotland since I was old enough to read romance novels.  I swear every one, especially historical romances, have a simile comparing the heroine and heather covered highlands.  While I was dreaming about living here I thought “And I could see the heather!”  One Google search later, I found out that the heather blooms in late August and early September.  Doh!  However, I did find out that the autumn colours in Scotland are amazing.  Thanks to the amazing British educational system and soul-reviving term breaks, a plan to see Scotland was put into motion … details to be announced.

While I was changing planes in Reykjavik, I overheard a couple reminiscing about a train trip they had taken from London to Edinburgh.  Erin version 3.0 talks to strangers.  I took a deep breath and asked them to tell me about it.  They had gone in the fall and loved the ever-changing scenery.  Aha!  I thought, I can do a train trip.

Of course, meeting Piers changed this plan.  Together, we decided we would drive up to Scotland, spend a couple of days in Edinburgh, move on to Inverness, and then see what happens.  I’m used to having a rather fixed-in-stone itinerary and found this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (trousers) plan to be mildly terrifying.  Piers did calm my fears by booking a couple of hotels before we left.

Josiah Wedgwood

We spent Saturday driving to York via Stoke-on-Trent, which really isn’t en-route from Tonbridge to York.  Stoke-on-Trent is the home to many famous china and pottery manufactures, but we were there to see the Wedgwood Museum.  I’ve been fascinated by Wedgwood ever since Uncle Fawcett moved back to Kelwood all those years ago and I learned about it from him.  Piers patiently went through the museum.  Even more remarkably, he judicially said nothing during my buying spree at the shop (a number of Christmas presents were shipped to Canada).  We both experience a lot of sticker shock.  There was a £3000 vase.  It was stunning, but a plumber and a teacher do not spend that kind of money on a vase.  I had hoped to find a nice teapot, meaning the stereotypical jasper with white relief, and was willing to spend around £80.  Turns out a cup & saucer were that much!!  I’d love to have one, but at that price and my clumsy nature, I’d never, ever use it!  I’m glad I went to the museum, but don’t think I’d ever go again.

Constantine the Great

The next day found us in York.  What a beautiful city!  We both want to go back and give it a real going over.  There are so many nooks and crannies to explore.  My guide book says “The appeal of York is its many layers of history.”  It started off as the capital of a Roman province in 71 AD.  In 306 York was the site where Constantine the Great was made emperor.  After the Romans left, the Saxons made it a Christian stronghold.  The Danish street names are a reminder that it was a Viking centre from 867 and an important European trading base.  It was England’s second city between 1100 and 1500.

The city of York has retained so much of its medieval structure that walking into its centre is like entering a living museum.

Medieval streets

Medieval street

Piers and I found the above guide book quote spot on.  York was fascinating.  One of our favourite spots were the narrow, winding streets with crooked, ancient, timber buildings perched over top.  One street is actually named ‘The Shambles.’  I’m so disappointed that the meaning of shambles isn’t derived from this street.  Oh well, my Google search brought up the following which is almost as good.

The way that fifteenth century buildings lean into the middle of the cobbled street means that the roofs almost touch in the middle. Mentioned in the Domesday book (making it date over 900 years), we know Shambles to be York ‘s oldest street, and Europe’s best preserved Medieval street. It really is a very special place.

The word Shambles originates from the Medieval word Shamel, which meant booth or bench. It was once also referred to as Flesshammel, a word with meaning around flesh; this is because Shambles was historically a street of butchers shops and houses. Records state that in 1872 there were 26 butchers on the street. The last butcher to trade on Shambles was at number 27 of the name Dewhurst.

Livestock was slaughtered on Shambles also, the meat was served over what are now the shop window bottoms, and these were originally the Shamels.

It is also interesting to notice the way the pavements on either side of the street are raised up, this was done to create a channel which the butchers would wash away their waste through; offal and blood would gush down Shambles twice weekly.

York Minster

Perhaps the most famous landmark of York is it’s cathedral, York Minster.  This is the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps.  That means it’s even bigger than Notre Dame in Paris!  Before walking through the doors, I didn’t comprehend just how big it truly was.  The outside is huge, but inside it’s massive.  It’s 519′ long and 249′ wide.  This is the 7th minster in York.  It was started in 1220 and finished 250 years later.  York Minster interior

I kept thinking of Ken Follet’s Pillar’s of the Earth and wondering what Tom Builder would think of this architectural masterpiece.  My guide book encouraged me to check out what became my favourite cranny in the minster – the Chapter House (where cathedral meetings are held).  According to Wikipedia:

The windows cover almost all of the upper wall space, filling the chapter house with light. The chapter house is octagonal, as is the case in many cathedrals, but is notable in that it has no central column supporting the roof. The wooden roof, which was of an innovative design, is light enough to be able to be supported by the buttressed  walls. The chapter house has many sculptured heads above the canopies, representing some of the finest Gothic sculpture in the country. There are human heads, no two alike, and some pulling faces; angels; animals and grotesques. Unique to the transepts and chapter house is the use of Purbeck marble to adorn the piers, adding to the richness of decoration.

I lit a candle for all my family and friends back in Canada

York also boasts a 3 mile long city wall.  Piers and I didn’t walk the whole length, but we did get a real sense of the what the medieval city must have been like.

York Minister from the city walls.

The views were amazing.  The people must have been daft to volunteer to patrol the walls!  So narrow and windy (even to this prairie girl!).  I also wonder about the awe that this view must have given a medieval citizen.  It sparked a great deal of awe in this 21st century citizen!

What might have been?

King Henry VIII forever changed the history of Christianity in England when he forced the English church to separate from Rome.  Part of the fall-out of that was the dissolution of the abbeys.  We came across the ruins of one such abbey.  I can’t begin to describe the sense of loss I felt while I gazed on what once must have been a utterly beautiful building built to glorify God.  We saw many such ruins (one of which was absolutely spectacular, all lit up at night) and I felt less and less uneasy, but the feelings never totally left me.

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