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More Than Words

Exploring England #20

Foremost among the many beautiful buildings in Manchester is the John Rylands Library. Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands, the library was gifted to the people of Manchester and first opened to the public in 1900.

The library houses a vast collection of precious books, manuscripts and illuminated texts, including a Gutenberg Bible. An entire wing is dedicated to the Althorp Library, which Enriqueta acquired from Lord Spencer for £210 000 in 1892. But as fascinating as the collections are, it’s the spectacular Victorian building many people come to see.

The neo-Gothic interior is richly ornamented, with stained glass, vaulted arches and soaring ceilings. Statuary fills every niche.

Enriqueta and John Rylands, immortalised in white marble, greet visitors to the Reading Room, where alcoves are filled to overflowing with aging leather-bound books.

Historical figures of artistic and scientific importance line the walls of the Reading Room, They look down serenely upon those who visit, as if ready to impart their knowledge to a new generation.

Whether it’s ancient words or wonderful architecture, this beautiful library has something to offer everyone.

Wall Walking

Exploring England #19

Many towns and cities in England have remnants of ancient walls and gates, originally built by the Romans and fortified centuries later by the Normans. Chester’s city walls are the most complete in Great Britain and give a wonderful perspective on the city, both inside and beyond. With medieval towers and bridges, a Norman castle, Roman amphitheatre and an ancient harbour lost long ago, a walk on the walls is a walk through history.

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The three kilometre walk surrounds the city centre and is elevated almost all the way round. We climb the steep medieval steps at Northgate, the highest point along the wall, and immediately the views are spectacular.

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Inside the wall is Northgate Street, home of The Pied Bull, oldest licensed house in Chester; beer has been served on this site since 1155. The Shropshire Union Canal, with pretty canal boats moored by the path, echoes the curves of the outside of the wall.

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The first tower we come to is the Phoenix Tower. Medieval in origin and restored by two city guilds in the 17th century, the tower is named for the carved phoenix above the door, symbol of the Painters’ Guild. In 1645, King Charles 1 watched the defeat of his army in the battle of Rowton Moor from the roof of this tower.

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Chester Cathedral, built in Gothic style, stands close to the eastern wall. For more than 1,000 years, worshippers have gathered on this site, and we leave the wall for a couple of hours to enjoy the splendid stained glass, medieval carvings and Victorian mosaics inside.

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Climbing back up to the wall, we walk on to Eastgate and the Eastgate clock, which commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The gate and its beautifully ornamental clock mark the entrance to Chester’s pedestrian shopping mall, where Tudor style buildings line the streets.

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From the top of the wall at Newgate we have a bird’s eye view of the Chester Amphitheatre. Dating from 275 AD, the stone amphitheatre is the largest of its type in Great Britain. It was in use until around 350 AD and would have been the site of military exercises, gladiatorial combat and other Roman entertainments. We’re surprised to spot some Roman soldiers in the amphitheatre today! Luckily, instead of going into battle, they’re telling stories of their exploits.

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Next to the amphitheatre, there are more traces of Roman occupation in the Roman Garden. The garden was developed in the 1950s but the pieces on display are not in situ. They were collected on 19th century building sites around Chester and placed together in this formal setting.

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When we turn the south east corner, the River Dee comes into view. The water here seems calm and still until it rushes over the weir built by the Normans around 1092 and onward under the Old Dee Bridge. This beautiful stone bridge, complete with seven arches, was built in 1387 and was the most important connection between northern England and Wales.

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There are private homes along this part of the wall and we wonder what it would be like to live here. The address of this home leaves no doubt about its unique location.

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After passing the bridge, our walk on the wall continues alongside the river, where leafy trees provide welcome shade.

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The scenery changes again on the western side as Chester Castle dominates the skyline. Originally a timber structure built by William the Conqueror in 1070, the castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century.

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Further along the western wall is the vast green expanse of the Roodee, Chester’s famous race course. It’s difficult to believe that, where horses now compete, Roman ships once docked – two thousand years ago this was a busy Roman port on the estuary of the River Dee. As the river changed course and the estuary silted up during medieval times the port disappeared, although traces of the Roman quay are still visible in parts of the wall. Horse racing began on the marshy land in 1539 and by the 18th century the races held in May were at the top of Chester’s social calendar. Today, the Chester Cup is one of England’s most important horse races.

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On the north west corner of the wall stand two more towers. The angular Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and the Watertower, recognised by its semicircular walls, were both strategically placed to protect the river port from attackers.

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The last tower we come to on the walls is Pemberton’s Parlour, a Georgian alcove created in the ruins of the earlier medieval Goblin Tower. It was named after John Pemberton, a Mayor of Chester in the 18th century, who often sat here while supervising his team of rope makers toiling on the ropewalk below. After walking right around the city, we follow Mr Pemberton’s example and rest for a while in the shade.

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Returning to Northgate, our circuit of the city walls is complete. The Pied Bull is open and it’s time for some of that beer!

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On The Outside

Exploring England #18

As we explored the streets of Manchester, I spent much of my time admiring the elaborate façades of the buildings. During the Industrial Revolution, the city was the centre of the nation’s textile industry and many of the buildings reflect the enormous wealth created by many but enjoyed by just a few. Luckily, these beautiful buildings can now be appreciated by everyone.

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ The Road Taken

When Is A Walk Not A Walk?

Exploring England #17

With the forecasters predicting sushine and record breaking warm temperatures, the day seemed ideal for a trip to Liverpool. Rather than braving the traffic and trying to find a car park, we decided to travel by train and spend the day on a self guided walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage listed city centre and docklands. That was the plan…

It was overcast when we arrived – not the sunshine we were expecting, but perfect for walking. Lunch was our first priority and the menu at the busy Pump House restaurant was enticing. A local lady dining at the next table gave us some friendly advice. “Have the fish and chips,” she said. “They’re the best in town.” We did, and she was right.

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We weren’t so sure about her next statement. “It’s going to rain this afternoon,” she said. “It’s going to pour at 2 o’clock.” That’s not what the weather forecast said, we were thinking, although we were too polite to say so.

Fortified by our delicious lunch, we set off to explore Albert Dock. Opened in 1846, Albert Dock was once the centre of a bustling port for sailing ships from around the world. As these ships were replaced by modern vessels, the docks and warehouses became redundant and they finally closed in 1972. After a restoration project lasting six years, Albert Dock reopened in 1988 with cafés and restaurants, galleries, shops and museums bringing people back to the old warehouses along the River Mersey.

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This part of the river is more than a kilometre wide and the buildings on the opposite bank looked like doll houses. Undeterred by the heavy, grey clouds gathering low in the sky, we wandered along Kings Parade where hundreds of engraved love locks decorate the path by the river.

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Even on this dull day, tiny ferries were busy on the river and we thought a cruise would be a pleasant way to see the city. But just as we turned towards the ferry terminal, it began to rain. Our lunch time companion’s prediction was correct. It wasn’t just a light shower – it was pouring!

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Even with our raincoats walking was no longer enjoyable, so we decided to see Liverpool from a different perspective and boarded a CityExplorer bus. We sat downstairs, where the view wasn’t as good but the seats were dry. The driver’s live commentary was as entertaining as it was educational and for the next hour we listened to his stories of Liverpool and her beautiful buildings.

Eventually the rain eased enough for us to start walking again. We left the bus on Victoria Street and went around the corner to Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club, where the Beatles performed nearly 300 times in the early 1960s. One benefit of the rain was the lack of people and we walked straight in…or down, as the steps went below street level to the basement. It was warm and dry and a great band was playing Beatles music – it was fun to stop for a while and enjoy  the vibrant atmosphere.

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After browsing in one of several Beatles shops, we headed once more towards the River Mersey.

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The city’s maritime history is commemorated at Liverpool Parish Church where a weather vane in the form of a golden sailing ship sits on top of the tower. In the Church gardens, the Liverpool Blitz Memorial depicts a young mother taking her children to shelter during a bombing raid. On the roof of the Royal Liver Building, once the tallest building in Europe, sit two mythical Liver birds, medieval symbols of the city.

Our last stop was St John’s Garden, a terraced sculpture garden featuring statues of well-known Liverpudlians including Prime Minister William Gladstone and a memorial to the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

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We arrived back at the train station just as the leaden skies opened again. We’d had enough of walking in the rain and, as the Beatles would say, we had tickets to ride!

 

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A Secret Place

Exploring England #13

Many attractions in Cornwall, like the Eden Project and Land’s End, are well-known and easy to locate. Carn Euny Ancient Village is different. We only learned of its existence from a map of English Heritage sites. It’s free to visit; the only cost is the effort required to find this hidden gem. With no local knowledge, we relied on our GPS to show us the way.

After negotiating narrow Cornish lanes lined by tall hedgerows, the road ended abruptly at a small car park. A dilapidated sign was the only indication we were heading in the right direction. It was as if we were searching for a secret place, known by just a few.

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We set off on foot on a wide track lined by green fields, where the local inhabitants watched in silence as we walked past. On the opposite side, the hedges were laden with fruit and tiny flowers.

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Even though we saw a couple of homes tucked away behind high hedges, barking dogs were the only signs of life. The mystery deepened when the track ended, replaced by a narrow path leading down into a shaded wood.

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We passed the remains of a old chapel and a sacred well dedicated to St Euny, almost hidden by a jumble of fallen stones.

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We knew we must be close and, as suddenly as we had entered the wood, we were out in the open again. Before us was the ancient village of Carn Euny. The area was occupied from as early as 800 BC until around 400 AD, and the stone foundations visible today date from the 2nd century AD. An information board showed us how the settlement may have looked around 300 AD.

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The structures were stone courtyard houses, built in a style unique to Cornwall. As we explored the site, we found the entrance to an underground passage.

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The passage, known as a fogou, is one of just a few found only in this part of Cornwall. The purpose of the fogou and the large underground chamber to which it leads is unknown, although archaeologists think they may have been used for storage or religious ceremonies.

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Standing inside the fogou, the sense of mystery enveloped us and we wondered about the people who once lived here. Even with our GPS and mobile phones we felt alone in this place. Would they have felt as isolated 1700 years ago as we did in the 21st century?

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In Search of the Past

Exploring England #10

Like many Australians who can trace their ancestry back to the towns and villages of England, a friend  of mine has researched her family history. On her mother’s side, her knowledge of the Thomas family goes back to 1572 and centres around the Cornish village of Breage and the Parish Church of St Breaca. On our way to Land’s End, we passed through Breage and, knowing my friend may never visit there herself, we stopped at the church to look for evidence of her ancestors.

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In the dull light of a foggy morning there was an air of mystery in the churchyard. Old headstones, some tilting haphazardly, were half hidden by the long, thick grass.

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The stone bell tower, complete with four carved pinnacles, loomed over us. We knew from my friend that the pinnacle on the back right, destroyed by a lightning strike in the late 1700s, was repaired by Richard Thomas 100 years later.

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Inside, the layout of the church hasn’t changed much in 500 years. The side walls are decorated with rare medieval paintings of local saints. Armed with my friend’s copy of the church’s booklet, we were able to find the pew where another ancestor, Mary Thomas, sat each Sunday.

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Back outside, we made an exciting discovery. Tucked away in a corner of the churchyard was the grave of William Thomas, who died in 1881. Could he have been my friend’s 3 x great uncle? She’ll need to do some more research!

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Falmouth – Near and Far

Exploring England #7

Even with our GPS, it wasn’t easy to find our Airbnb home in Falmouth. The narrow road, winding and lined on both sides with parked cars, climbed a seemingly endless hill. Eventually we found the correct address, and then we had to go even higher – our flat was on the fourth floor.

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We were beginning to wonder if it would be worth all the effort, until we walked into the living room. Perched high above Frobisher Terrace the flat, with its two large picture windows, overlooked the waters of Carrick Roads and the village of Flushing on the other side. We had the best view in town!

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Every day it was different. Early in the morning, the glow of the rising sun made a pathway between the tiny boats anchored offshore. One day, ocean mist shrouded everything in a veil of white. At night, the reflected lights of the port glistened on the water.

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Our location wasn’t just amazing because of the view. A ten minute walk down Beacon Street took us to the oldest part of town, where the street names and shop façades gave us clues to their history.

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At each bend in the road the street name changed. High Street became Market Street and then Church Street. On the corner here, the Church of King Charles the Martyr pays homage to Falmouth’s history as a Royalist town during the English Civil War.

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Narrow alleys between the shops, unchanged over the centuries, led down to the piers and the harbour.

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At the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, we explored a Viking boat-building yard, listened to the stories of passengers aboard the packet ships of the 19th century and raced in a purpose built dinghy in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

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Leaving the boats of the Maritime Museum, we continued along Bar Terrace past prettily coloured homes, all with that same wonderful view of the ocean.

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An uphill walk along Castle Drive and Castle Close led to King Henry VIII’s fortress, Pendennis Castle. Along with St Mawes Castle across the estuary, Pendennis was one of a line of coastal fortresses and remained in use from Tudor times to the end of the second World War.

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Like Henry’s soldiers who kept watch on the castle walls, we had 360° views. We saw Falmouth and its beautiful waterways from yet another perspective. We could even make out, far in the distance, our own private vantage point at the top of Frobisher Street.

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