Posts Tagged ‘Cistercian’

This week has been the end (mostly) of a very long saga of accounting issues stretching back to April. Apparently getting yourself set up the first time for a tax cycle in the UK is a lot more complex than you might imagine, but it all got filed on Thursday. We may still have one more thing to dispute later on if HMRC (the UK version of the IRS) decides to press it, but that might not come up. I cannot stress enough the cumulative building stress that I was under and the relief that I felt when we got the final email from the accountants saying everything was filed and, by the way, Merry Christmas.

One thing to know though, before skipping along to the travelogue, is that I do not recover instantly from stress. While in no way does this compare with the experience of an Iraqi vet, in the same way that you can’t expect a returning soldier to simply kick their heels up and pop open a cold one because they’re out of the trenches now, neither can I go frolicking through the fields with daffodils and kittens. I tried to explain this to Bear, between unpredictable emotional outbursts, and it went something like this:

Bear: But it’s OK, why are you crying? It’s over!

Me: <sniff> Why did Tom Hanks break down at the end of Captain Phillips once the Navy SEALs rescued him and he was finally safe?

Bear: Because he wanted another Oscar?

I had somewhat calmed down by Saturday thanks to two trips to the movies to see Frozen and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and Bear planned a trip up to York to see some spots we had missed. I really like York a lot and was trying to look forward to it and ended up napping most of the way until we arrived.

Byland Abbey is a really extensive Cistercian abbey in the Yorkshire moors that, like many, has fallen into ruins thanks to Henry VIII, but what’s left is still impressive.

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

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Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

We had tried to find Helmsley Castle last year when we first came to Yorkshire but it’s oddly located off the main square with absolutely not one single sign pointing to it. Given how freaking large the complex is, that’s pretty amazing.

Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Bridge over one of the two moats

Bridge over one of the two moats

Museum inside

Museum inside

Monks still active today!

Monks still active today!

The East Tower

The East Tower

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

We talked to the guys at Helmsley about the Jorvik Center in York which we haven’t been to and we’re on the fence about it. It looks kinda cheesy in some of the pictures and we have a firm rule against mannequins, but reputable people keep telling us it was a good experience (including an archaeologist at Creswell Crags who sounded exactly like Jane Horrocks, which is a little terrifying). The guys said it was a little dated but that the collections were really good so we think we’ll break down and do it.

Around the corner from the castle, there was an amazing bakery (Auntie Anne’s Bakery) that had won some awards and we picked up scones and some cranberry cookies with tea. Scones are generally very dry and even hard, but these were light and beautifully fluffy, almost like Southern biscuits. I nearly cried.

To get to the next site, we took the off road through the moors and on some single track roads which led to some really nice scenic spots while eating scones and cookies and getting crumbs basically everywhere.

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The next stop, Mount Grace Priory, was a two in one with a manor house from the 1800s that was part of an abbey that was still accessible. The driving force behind the house was a man named Lowthian Bell who was a follower of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement started by William Morris, and much of the house was decorated/designed through Morris’ company.

The house portion

The house portion

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Bell also built a recreation of a monk’s cell as it would have been for the Carthusian monks who founded the abbey. There weren’t many Carthusian houses in England as the order were hermits, which is not to say that they were ascetics. The restoration/recreation of the cell was really nice and comfortable and each one had its own latrine and running water in addition to private chambers and being part of a cloistered area with its own tiny gardens.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

This sculpture is of a Madonna but in a very different pose. The plaque contained a statement from the artist detailing his vision of her as strong and determined, offering up her child, the Christ, up to heaven even as she received him, and it’s interesting to see how her posture forms a cross. It was supposed to combine the nativity, the annunciation and the crucifixion all in one.

We headed in to York and had dinner at the best restaurant in York (IMHO), La Rustique, which is an amazing French place with actual French waitstaff. I know this not only because of the accent but because of how nice they are to us. Go for the set menu of starter, entree and dessert for just 15 pounds and you get amazing food, like Bear’s seafood linguini.

Seafood linguini

Seafood linguini

We made a good stab at visiting Howden Minster on the way back south but it was already pitch black by then (which happens at 4:30 p.m. now) and while we found it, it was so dark I nearly twisted my ankle just walking through the graveyard. Cue the spooky music, it would’ve been a perfect setting for a horror movie. (I’ve seen pictures online though and it’s absolutely amazing so we’re not claiming that one yet until we go back by daylight.)

I was still really tired from the week and, frankly, the last eight months since the accounting stuff started in April, so we have a deal that tomorrow I’m going to go to the movies all day courtesy of the Cineworld Unlimited card. We’re on track to get a Cineworld theater of our own in St. Neots in mid-February, just about two months from now. Since the project has undergone some bizarre setbacks so far, including being built 88 cm off the blueprints which resulted in a woman who shall not be named protesting that it was too close to her house and getting the entire structure torn down so they had to start over again, I’m not making plans just yet, but I am excited. However, this week the News Crier had a story about how a worker at the site was crushed between an earth mover and a wall (I guess he didn’t see it coming?) and has serious injuries to his pelvis (not a good area in general), so who knows what that will mean for the opening. My co-worker Sheila says that after all my anxious monitoring of the progress that they should let me cut the ribbon. I don’t know about all that, but I certainly plan to be there for it.

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(Warning–no idea why the hard returns aren’t working in this post so some paragraphs aren’t set off. I would try harder to fix it but I’m sick and loopy on Day-Quil.)
A little background again on our trek up to Nottingham. I’ve been a general fan of any kind of historical adventure for as long as I can remember and Robin Hood moved to the front of the pack back in the late 1990s. I wound up writing a re-interpretation of the legend and even got an agent for the novel (oh how I cling to that brief moment of triumph) before gradually succumbing to the stress of having to work an increasing number of hours and being married to a really nice guy, whose chief hobby seems to be asking me what I want to go do. As in, not writing.

Image taken with permission from the Robyn of Sherwood comic book series by Paul Storrie (a very nice guy and big fan of the legend in his own right)

So getting to go see the site of everything that I wrote about was going to be both very exciting and also a little weird and I wasn’t sure what effect it would have on me in the end.
We made a resolution to get on the road early, so we got some pastries (pain au chocolat) at Waitrose that we could bake and eat home with tea which turned out really nicely and for a much better price too. Juliet wasn’t terribly pleased with us leaving and watched from the stairs with a forlorn look.
Bear had scored enormous husband points by downloading and burning a disc of mp3 talks from the Nottingham city site all about the history of Robin Hood so we could listen on the drive. I was interested to hear what they had to say no matter what, and I was really pleasantly surprised at how comprehensive the talks were and what a good understanding they had of the textual evolution f the legend and how the characters changed from medieval times through Elizabethan times and into the modern interpretations. They even cited some ballads I hadn’t read as closely and they made me want to go back to the original texts as soon as I got home.
There was however a little conflict over Bear’s misunderstanding and he believed the narrator said that Robin Hood had robbed a “corrupt ‘munk” instead of that he robbed a “corrupt monk” which is just silly.
Our first stop was in Trent to see the Newark castle on the banks of the Trent. The remaining walls are mostly a facade but a very impressive one at that. The grounds weren’t open yet but I got a good view form across the river Trent.

Newark Castle on Trent

This was the site of some action from the book I wrote about Robin Hood (where the main characters grew up) so that was really cool to see. I had a line drawing of the ruins that I used as an illustration but to see the real thing was pretty special.

The only representation I had to work from for a long time, pre-Internet (not from the Paul Storrie comics)

We drove further north to Sherwood and got to the forest just after opening. I mean, not that the forest isn’t open all the time but the car park does have limits. We hiked through the forest and I was really amazed at how open it is in places. That’s mostly because I’ve lived most of my life in north Florida which makes even primitive forest first look old. You literally can’t move more than two feet in any direction so the idea of running through the woods is just ridiculous. I watched the first few seasons of The X Files and thought alone was a mystery worth solving–how in the world did they run through the woods like that?

Not an ankle-twisting vine in sight

Most of Sherwood has been deforested which is sad but not atypical of the old growth forests, like the great forest that used to cover much of Europe (I think the Black Forest is the most notable remnant of that). We saw lots of interesting trees and I took a ludicrous number of pictures. The idea percolating in the back of my mind was this: I know and freely admit that I am a dreadful writer when it comes to scene and description. I’m far too interested in dialogue, action, plot, things like that to be a really effective descriptive writer.

Bear walking into a dense clump of fir.

So I was probably lying to myself when I thought that I could take all these pictures of trees, grass, songbirds and everything under the sun, literally, and go back and add details that would really improve the quality of the writing; still, we tell ourselves these little deceits to be through a times, so I happily clicked away and Bear humored me.

I have no idea — I’m hoping my Dad will read this and tell me what it is. (Yes, I know Google exists.)

The Major Oak was really impressive, even for me and I’ve seen a lot of really big impressive oak trees in my time. They estimate that the Major Oak is 1150 years old and it’s still growing, which gives me hope somehow for the rest of us.

Major Oak, Minor Offender

We managed to find our way back, despite Bears attempt to get off the bridle path and into a little trouble. Our next stop was Creswell Crags, which we need to revisit later because the tour we wanted wasn’t open, but it was still really neat.

I had no idea they were living in England now…and had changed the spelling.

It’s a set of caves in the limestone gorge by Creswell and they found Ice Age cave drawings there as well as fossils, hyena dens and even a wolf tooth from over 80000 years ago.

The Crags on the Darbyshire side of the formation

One of the caves was supposed to have been used by Robin Hood at one point and that brought me back again to the idea of more editing because I had two very key scenes set in caves and I really didn’t do the best job of getting into the cave atmosphere, much less mentioning that some of them had been inhabited in prehistoric times or had freaking cave art. I’d like to blame the fact that I didn’t have too much access to the Internet then (it was dial-up and slow as molasses) and was too impatient.

The crags and caves on the Nottinghamshire side

But we didn’t get to see the art so well definitely be back for that and to pick up a few more points of interest, like the Thieves Wood and St. Mary’s Church where supposedly Robin Hood and Maid Marian were married (that is if you don’t know the real version of how the story went).
We headed from there over to Rufford Abbey which is an old Cistercian Monastery that was later converted into a private estate with some gorgeous gardens.

From the second floor of the remaining building

My little niggling idea about going back and doing some editing came back again because one the major characters was a Cistercian monkey and yet again I’d completely flubbed the research part. I have a short attention span for that sort of thing, which you think would’ve kept me from undertaking a historical adventure novel in the first place but apparently I’m just not that bright, which was the original problem.

Monks still present at the abbey…well, Bears in Barbour jackets with hoods at any rate

I bought a little book on the abbey and the Cistercian order, tucking it away against the day when I do some more editing.

Remaining window from the original abbey structure before additions were made to convert it to a manor.

That we found the abbey at all was something of a miracle because Martha our sat nav had done an unusually bad job of getting us there actually, she did a fine job but she took us straight across a golf course to do it, that would be funny, except the exact same thing had happened this summer when we were in England and drive up t St. Andrews and went to the old course and blithely drove out on the golf cart track right through a golf game.
We actually got a bit of rain which we really haven’t so far but Bear was prepared. He had treated the windshield with Rain X earlier and now it all beaded up instantly. “Look,” he said. “The windshield is hydrophobic now.” I laughed because it was really funny but it turns out that this is the actual term that the Rain X corporation has chosen to employ.
Packed up and headed down to Nottingham then so we would have enough time at the castle. Something to know about England–they close everything earlier than you would think. If you’re not there by 3:30┬áthen it’s closing with or without you. I’d also gotten one line drawings of the castle before and used then as a book reference, so it was very cool to see the gatehouse myself and walk up the hill.

Exterior castle wall, some stonework from the original

It’s a very impressive bit of strategic planning in that the castle is up on a sandstone outcropping on a hill in command of everything in the city below. William the Conqueror charged through back in the 1060s and put up a number of fortifications of which Nottingham was one and it grew into a castle proper with stone work and all the accessories over the next 150 years.

The sandstone base had been carved into tunnels and natural crags used to advantage.

We saw the grounds and what was left of the original structure, most of which was demolished during the Civil War in the 1600s. Bear got chilled at one point and needed some food, so I saw a little more of the cafe than rest of the grounds, but we got into the cave tour and went under the castle to see the dungeon remnant and the passages carved out of the sandstone that came out at the foot of the castle.

Sandstone wall of the cave tunnels to Mortimer’s Hole under Nottingham Castle

Much of Nottingham has caves underneath and some of them go back to prehistoric times. I confess, there came that idea again to go back and write more because I had talked about the caves and tunnels in the book about the sandstone caved and passages, but didn’t have any real idea how to write about them effectively. Now I’ve put my hands on the walls, climbed up and down and felt the air, so I’m wondering.

Cave tunnel

Wile on the tour, our guide Phil made some offhand remarks that weren’t meant to be as funny as they were, such as “Isabel was a French woman he married so she became…his French wife.” Also we passed a very nice looking door set into the stonework and he remarked, “And that’s pretty but useless. It doesn’t lead anywhere. The duke had it put in because it was just something you did then.”

The door to nowhere

I had an unusually quick thinking moment and said loud enough to hear, “I have one of those too. It’s called a bachelors degree.” The guys at the back of the tour near me really laughed and I got a rare Bear approval (he doesn’t usually think I’m that funny).
We headed over to Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem, a pub carved out of the sandstone across the way from the castle. I had also set a scene from the book there (and yes, got much of it completely wrong–we have a theme here) and we were going to have a drink, but it was utterly crowded with standing room only, so we headed back out and found a group of girls all dressed in Robin Hood costume headed over to the statue outside the castle. They were taking pictures and another fellow offered to help and then he wound up getting into the pictures himself. I never did pick up on what the occasion was, but they were all having a very nice time.

Absolutely no idea what the girls were up to

We headed back out to find Wollaton Hall which is a huge estate nearby. The main house is also being used in the filming of The Dark Knight Rises, the third Batman film in the Christopher Nolan trilogy, so that will be spun to see this summer and know we saw the house first here.

Just imagine Christian Bale sauntering out on the balcony.

The estate also has huge gardens and a deer park. Now, that may strike you as an odd turn of phrase, but I assure you that a deer park is just that. It’s a giant park with herds of deer and they really don’t give a flip about you. They do however care if your dog harasses the deer and there’s a sign that lets you know that such a dog is liable to be shot. To put a funnier spin on it, observe this YouTube video which was filled at Richmond Park. If I had a dog, I would name if Fenton.

Deer. They don’t care.

We were pretty hungry and wound up at a terrific Indian spot called Spices that let us in early and treated us really nicely–papadom with chutney, peshwari naan, mushroom byrani, chicken tandoori, lassis and mint chocolate ice cream for dessert. Totally worth eating in every other day this week.
So that leaves me pondering on if I should try to do something again with the book, just for my own enjoyment, or to just accept the grim reality of the volume of work load i have right now and that my free time will be spent on day trips like these, which are arguably once in a lifetime opportunities. But at the very least, it was nice to finally walk in Sherwood, see the caves and the castle and understand a bit more what my characters would have seen and experienced.

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