Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Five

Tuesday, 21 March, 1989
Stamford to Lincoln to Durham
Day Five

Breakfast downstairs in the Anchor Inn hotel dining room (this being the fireplace end of the very well-tailored Georgian style pub) was pretty substantial, though it followed the standard menu of eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, and tea. Toast was burnt but I wasn’t up to complaining this morning.

I’ve also noticed the British aren’t very big on napkins. Even at Coverdale* they’re just put in a bunch in a glass at each end of the table, for whosoever will to take, and I’d say most don’t. But these places lately don’t have them at all, which means wiping one’s mouth on one’s sleeve. Not too charming of me and very odd on their part, not to have them.

Thank God the person I finally parked next to last night, apparently also one of the overnight guests, pulled out before I did, thus averting any more damage.

Got out on the A1 (I’m getting a little better at getting out of towns without getting lost) around 9:30 and headed in the direction of York. Around Grantham and Newark (on Trent, not New Jersey) I started seeing signs announcing the exit for Lincoln. I hadn’t planned to see that town or its cathedral but at the third exit notice I said, oh, to hell with it, I can take a couple of hours on those. So I headed southeasterly down the A57 towards Lincoln, winding around and paying a 15p toll on a bridge over the Trent. I suppose for the scenic value of watching the barges go by on the river below.

Lincoln is a city set on a hill; unfortunately the British highway department failed to supply the rubbernecking motorist with nice, good places to pull off and enjoy the prospect.

It is a place that once you get into town you can turn on the cathedral-detecting intuition and just drive till you find it, without worrying too much about spotting signs. Just keep heading uphill.

The signage comes in when you’re looking for parking. Found the official cathedral carpark. They wanted 50p for it. Not if I could help it. So I drove around still I found a free two hour place on the street on Drury Lane.

Following that downhill (on foot) past St. Michael’s church, I saw at the corner of Wordsworth (off Drury Lane) and Bailgate an ancient stone house that looked awfully familiar. Oh, goodness, it was one of the 12th Century
Jews’ houses!

It’s now occupied (ground floor) by the thrift store of the
St. Barnabas Hospice. They had a curious silverplate serving spoon in the window, with a bowl like a scallop shell. 50p, and I went in and bought it, thus making up for the savings on parking.

I also asked about the building. One of the volunteer ladies said yes, it is very ancient, and the subsurface cellar arch has 1106 carved on it. She couldn’t let me go down to see, because the bottom of the stairs was piled with filled trash bags. But I was allowed to step onto the top cellar step and look up and see the original wattle ceiling there.

She had some interesting stories about interconnecting cellars and secret meetings of the Jews prior to the
Expulsion, but I wasn’t sure whether to believe them. I am sure she’s right in saying the ground floor originally had arrow loops and not the big shop windows of today. [The adjoining house next door shows evidence of having been a synagogue; this may be at the bottom of the woman's stories.]

Having now remembered why I was supposed to visit Lincoln, I walked down a very steep incline (aptly named
Steep Hill) to the Strait where I saw the other extant Jew’s House. The first floor windows have been sadly jimmied with, but the general fabric looks good, considering its age.

Plowed my way back up Steep Hill and Bailgate to the
cathedral. It’s set behind a gate, and too bad, but the righthand half of the west face was hiding behind scaffolding. Open to view otherwise.

I’m trying to think of what impressed me the most there, if only to keep myself from writing an essay here.

Lincoln is vaulted throughout, of course. Maybe the most curious things is the
odd vaults in the choir, where the ribs transfer down to unexpected colonnettes. They say that was completed in St. Hugh’s lifetime. Wonder if it was his bright idea.

The transept rose windows were duly noted . . . Bishop’s Eye [the south transept rose] undergoing renovation.

Day was grey out at this point, but still all right for photos. I suppose one advantage of having the wideangle lens on the blink is that it forces me to use the faster standard f1.7 lens.

English cathedrals are different in atmosphere from those in France. Not as mystical-feeling. At least, it’s hard to maintain a sense of awe with a cavalcade of school children being ushered through.

Took note of the wall arcading in the nave. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that in France.

Visited the cloister and the chapter house and all the other nooks and crannies that seemed interesting, in the process going over the two hours for the parking (not to mention for the side trip).

Moved the car, changed to the heavier coat, and walked back and visited
Lincoln Castle, opposite the cathedral. Its walls are pretty well intact, as it was used as the county prison almost through the 19th Century. The Court buildings are still located there.

Got whipped around by the wind at the top of the Observation Tower and learned that is the vantage from which all the stock photos of the west front of the cathedral are taken.

Perhaps the strangest part was the Lucy Tower, the old shell keep on the original castle mound [2008 note: One of two, actually].

A long steep staircase leads up the green grassy
motte. On either side the golden daffodils bowed to the wind and undaunted sprang up cheerfully again. The white clouds raced by in the blue sky overhead, the sun bathing mound and walls with flirtacious and recurrent light.

I climbed the steps and passed through the ancient stone arch into the keep. Instantly, it seemed a smothering hand had blotted out the sun. It wasn't merely the spreading yew trees that brooded over the scene. No, gloom and hopelessness--even evil--exuded from the cold embrace of those walls. Immediately I noticed the lichenous stone slabs sprouting like unhealthy growths from the black, infertile ground, some broken off a few inches from the surface. They seemed to be only about nine inches square at the largest. I looked and saw that the whole ones bore only two letters and a four-digit number. Absurdly, they reminded me of the plaques the gas company here mounts on walls to mark valve locations. No. Impossible here in these walls. Too many, too close together. What could those slabs be?

But I could not and would not stay to investigate. The sense of oppression and malevolence was too much. I took but a single picture, right where I stood, and took myself away.

In the castle shop on my way out I bought a guidebook and looked up the Lucy Tower. It said that is where they buried the executed criminals. I guess I should have known. If any place in that compound is haunted I’d say that’s it. I could feel it. Nasty.

Since it was trying to rain I went back to the car for my umbrella, then headed downtown (literally in Lincoln’s case). My camera meter had been acting dodgy so I found a photo store and had them test the battery. Yes, getting low (I hope not too low, or I’ve wasted a lot of film today). While I was at it I bought a replacement flash for £7 something. Not automatic, but what do you expect?

Next thing was a bit of food and a call to the car hire people to report the damage. Bought a banana for 17p to shut the stomach up, at the covered market. Lincoln’s got an extensive pedestrian shopping area down by their bit of river (covered with swans) and it’s very busy. Don’t ask me why Kansas City can’t manage that. Too much suburban sprawl, I suppose.

Located a card phone and reached Europcar. They said I needed to come get an accident report to fill in, and gave me directions on how to find their location. Fortunately, not too far off on my Blue Guide map.

After that, went round to where there was a cheap fish and chips shop and bought an order thereof. Tons of food for £1.23. The oil the fish had been fried in might’ve been familiar to Aaron the Jew, however, so I only ate of that till I wasn’t hungry anymore (I think my stomach is shrinking). Saved the rest of the chips for later.

Bought a half dozen hot cross buns from a bakery for 66p. They didn’t give me a sack but I’ve seen enough people carrying naked bread through the streets that I felt I needn’t be self-conscious about it.

The crosses on the buns here are in the bread, not in frosting. I wonder
how they do it?

At the rental agency they gave me a form and said it was ok, that since I signed the collision damage waiver I’d waived responsibility over to Europcar. Sounds odd to me but if that means I shan’t be out of pocket, I’ll fill out the forms and glad to do it. Didn’t need to now, though. Later, when I return to Oxford.

They offered me another car, but I said no, this one has I hope been innoculated as it were. Unless I could get an Escort? No, none available.

4:30 or so, back up the A57 to the A1, toll bridge and all. Decided to give up York, as what I’d been intending to see there I’d pretty well covered in Lincoln, and so push on for Durham tonight.

So I did, calling a listing in the Let’s Go from a motel in Leeming to see if there was space. There was, and I was given directions.

But I got lost anyway. Kept trying to get to the City Centre so I could get my bearings and head out Crossgate as directed. But I kept losing track of the signs and ending up in all these impossible places. Finally I ended up on the riverside drive above the Wear to the west of the cathedral and thereafter I knew what I was about.

Staying in a place called Glück Auf, run by a German lady. Decent for £7.50, if you can deal with glass in the bedroom doors and little reed shades over the glass that obscure nothing whatsoever. But I suppose this has the salutary effect of making me get in bed and get the lights off early.

No central heat here, only a machine you’re supposed to feed 10ps to. But I used my last 10p on the phone at Leeming. So put another blanket on and stay under the covers . . .

The cathedral and castle here are lit up at night. Very imposing above the river.

7 comments:

Sandy said...

Reading your itinerary made ME tired! LOL

St. Blogwen said...

The joke is that my tiredness kept my account from doing a very fine cathedral justice. Too much to describe after too much driving.

Oh, yeah, how'd you like my little "ghost story"?

Sandy said...

If you are speaking about the Lucy Tower, it have me the shivers! I'm not sure I would have stayed to take even one picture!!

St. Blogwen said...

The thing I didn't write down is that the slabs looked a lot like the little plaques the British gas company puts on walls and sticking out of the ground to remind them where the valves are buried. Those have letters and numbers on them, too. But it was impossible for so many of them to be there in that godforsaken spot. But as I said, I didn't hang around to investigate!

St. Blogwen said...

I just edited it to put that in. Because they really did not look like tombstones when I first saw them. That's what made the creepiness I felt all the creepier when I found out what that place was.

Sandy said...

That would explain the creepiness. I am glad you didn't stay for more than one picture. I wonder why they chose that place to bury criminals and not a "potters field" out in the open...

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