beautiful wells and mystical glastonbury

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Early Saturday morning and all of London seems asleep. The only sounds I hear are that of my running feet on their way to the tube station. It is a good few hours to Wells and Glastonbury. And when you leaving in a few days, oh well, sleeping in on a Saturday morning is the last priority on one’s list. 😀

England’s smallest cathedral city, Wells, derives its name from the three wells within its walled precincts, which during the Middle Ages were believed to have therapeutic qualities. Its other key attraction, for nearly a millennium, has been its cathedral [Cathedral Church of St. Andrew], and understandably so. Continue reading

blenheim, churchill and me

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” ~
Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

There are many advantages to travel—it reveals facets of people, places and our world which are often quite extraordinary.

Blenheim Palace is not in the top “things to do” list, and so tends to get sidelined. Which is a good thing, as it is thus, saved from the crowds and plastic commercialism which invariably smothers the real essence of overtly popular places. But what is Blenheim? It is a home, a very grand home of a man who was a statesman, orator, writer and artist, all rolled into one. It is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill—Britain’s most famous prime minister and Nobel Prize laureate for literature in 1953, who also happened to be the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.

The 300-year-old baroque palace puts Britain’s statesman in a completely different context, amidst ceilings by Nicholas Hawksmoor and stonework by Grinling Gibbons. I had to keep telling myself this was somebody’s “home”! Look at the pictures and you will understand my awe.

The baroque splendour of Winston Churchill’s family home:
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historic york

When I moved to London last year, York topped my “things to do/ see/ experience” list. And then I got busy studying and travelling to nearer places. But I never forgot York. There is something iconic about York—perhaps attributable to its historic value and the fame of its York Minster. 6 am this morning I was, thus, off to catch my train from King’s Cross station, to keep a promise to myself.

The history of York has been said to be the history of Britain. Dating back to 71 AD when it was founded by the Romans, the city first served as the capital of the Roman province “Britannia Inferior”, and thereafter that of subsequent rulers, namely, the Angles and Vikings. It was also in York, in 306 AD, that Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor by his troops. A Roman column marks the site; the column was once part of 36 similar ones that supported a great hall in the Roman garrison.

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the prettiest castle and grandest church in england

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Leeds castle is presently kept as a living house; guests can stay in its bedrooms. Over 10 million people have visited the castle in the last 30 years

Take the prettiest castle and the grandest church in the country and that was my day for today. Yes, I went to Leeds and Canterbury.

By now I can honestly say I have been to most of the castles and churches in England—the important ones, the lesser known ones, those that the guide books rave about, and those that the locals get sentimental and have loads of personal memories attached to ones. And the two I visited today easily qualify as the best of the best. 🙂 Continue reading

circles of stones—part 2—avebury

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Travelling to places off the beaten path is an exhilarating experience. And yes, there are still such places in England too. Everyone clamours to go to Stonehenge. Which is understandable. It’s pretty fantastic. But there is a site even older and bigger, spread over the rolling meadows that Thomas Hardy repeatedly invoked in his timeless novels set in eastern England. It’s called Avebury. Continue reading

circles of stones—part 1—stonehenge

I am finally visiting the sight people commonly see in their first week in London—I am going to Stonehenge. I wasn’t too sure as to what I ought to be feeling as I made the 90-minute train journey to Salisbury. I had seen too many pictures; heard and read endless reviews, some ecstatic, others disappointed. I could even close my eyes and picture the prehistoric ring of stone slabs, complete with blue or grey skies. It is after all the most popular wallpaper on Windows as well.

Before I took the coach on to Stonehenge, I spent some time at Salisbury also known as New Sarum though nobody ever calls it by this name. I wish I’d had more time in the town whose chief claim to fame is its cathedral which has got to be the most beautiful in the country.

It is also an architectural marvel. Where do I begin? Because of the high water table in the area, the 123 metre high church stands over foundations merely 1 metre deep. The 60 metre hollow spire weighs 6,500 tonnes and is the tallest spire in the United Kingdom and the tallest pre-1400s surviving spire in the world. Designed by Bishop Richard Poore, the cathedral was built over just 38 years (1220-1258) and is a masterpiece of Early English Gothic architecture. The world’s oldest working clock (1386) with no face and which only struck the hours was used in the bell tower till 1789; it now stands in the north aisle. One more fact. The Chapter House contains one of the finest versions of the only four surviving original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta—the very cornerstone of Human Rights. Whew!

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medieval winchester

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I completed my research paper and submitted it this week. I’m not too sure about the logic behind it but I always seem to forget to eat and sleep. So the first thing I did after submissions was refuel, in no specific order, and then I took my camera and wandered off, this time to Winchester.

Winchester is one of those towns which resonates with English history and lots of Williams, Alfred the Great (849-99) and Saint Swithin. The most famous William is William Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (1366-1404) who remodelled much of the cathedral and founded Winchester College. Built on the banks of the river Itchen in Hampshire over the Roman town of Venta Belgarum, Winchester used to be the capital of Wessex and the Kingdom of England. Continue reading

warwick—old town and castle

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Warwick is the story of the Old Town with its Tudor houses and medieval church, and Warwick castle, a fantasy land owned by Madame Tussauds. It is also the story of the Earls of Warwick and the Earl of Leicester who were responsible for much of the shape the town took, both architecturally and historically. Continue reading

richmond to hampton

Richmond and Hampton with a cruise down the river Thames. That’s the plan for the day.

The nice thing about travelling when you are older is you appreciate the finer nuances better. 😀 For one, I learnt that Richmond used to be called Shene and was highly popular with the royal family who lived in the manor house until Henry VII built Richmond Palace in 1501. It’s a little startling to take a turn and actually step back 500 years. Though much of the palace has been lost to time, the Maids of Honours Row, Wardrobe, Trumpeter’s House and Gate House still stand intact, now converted into rented apartments behind the historical facades.

Walking past the Victorian Richmond theatre, boutique shops and the Green which has held cricket matches since 1666, I reached the edge of the Thames to catch my boat to Hampton, as I was told Henry VIII would have done! The cruise is hypnotic with its serene landscapes intertwined with picturesque houses hugging the edge of the river. One feels one is somewhere far away in the country. But it is still London or to be technically correct, Greater London.

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georgian bath, roman bath

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Bath has to be the most beautiful city in England. It is like a sliver of Europe with all its Baroque and Palladian splendour, but imbued with the elegance of the Georgian period—the reigns of the kings George I, George II, George III and George IV (1714-1830).

The weather was lovely. When you live in London, half your conversations end up revolving around the weather! But having blue skies and clear breezes is seen as something of a good sign. 😀

What do I say about Bath? I won’t go into the histories or the architects. There’s loads of it on the net. What rather came across, at least for me, was the lifestyle it represented. It echoes a period that Jane Austen revelled in writing about. The mornings spent drinking the spring waters which were believed to cure all kinds of illnesses, the corridors one went shopping in where musicians entertained, and come evenings, everyone’s flocking to the Assembly Rooms to play cards, drink coffee and do some ball room dancing. And exactly at 11 pm everyone left for their apartments to start the cycle again the next day. Funnily enough, they never ever got bored of it. It was the centre of fashionable life in England during the 18th Century or until Brighton took over. Continue reading

stratford-upon-avon, the place shakespeare called home

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The other day I went to Stratford-upon-Avon. It was like having tea with Shakespeare (1564-1616) and his family. Replete with gossip and a walk around the house to see the gardens. 🙂 I met his wife and his daughters, sons-in-law, and his last descendant Elizabeth, his granddaughter. I was shown the room where he was born, and the workroom where his father made and sold gloves through a window overlooking the street. I sat on the courting settle which according to legend is where William too used to sit when wooing Anne Hathaway, and peeked into the bedrooms of the Hathaway farmhouse with its lopsided floors, crooked roofs and minuscule beds. Apparently they used to sleep half-seated during Tudor times and that is why their beds were so tiny. Continue reading

of verulamium, romans and saints

Once upon a time, a long time ago, 1959 years ago to be exact, there was a Roman town by the name of Verulamium. It was the third largest town in Roman Britain and had been granted the rank of municipium which meant that it could collect its own taxes and administer itself.

It was complete with all the trappings of Roman civilized life—a theatre, temples, an arch, roman baths, basilica, and a forum for its population of nearly 15,000. Trade flourished and its people lived in fine town houses equipped with underfloor heating systems. This town was my stop for today. Continue reading