Monday, April 28, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Six

Wednesday, 22 March, 1989
Durham to Warkworth to Glasgow
Day Six

At breakfast this morning I met the other guests here. Three students from Trinity College, Cambridge, two of them from Australia and one from Kent. They were driving, too, and we traded motorway stories. They'd had the thrill of being stuck between two lorries going 90 mph, and once, when a passing lane was briefly provided, the car ahead pulled out and straddled the line and didn't get back into his lane until the passing lane ended. What can you say besides "miserable jerk!"?

The weather today was nothing if not capricious. As we sat at breakfast we looked out at a sunny blue sky-- before which backdrop rain was blowing horizontally nonetheless, the droplets glistening as they hurtled through the air. There was a beautiful rainbow out the back when I took my luggage out to the car, parked in the alley. No guarantee of clement skies to come, but wonderful in itself. It had every color possible, some of which might not come out in the pictures I took, as I was using a UV filter.

Drove down into town and found a place I could park all day for 40p, by the Durham Ice Rink. I put everything I wasn't taking with me into the trunk, as usual, then took off towards town. Got most of the way down the block when it hit me that it certainly was going to rain some more, so I trotted back to fish out my rubber lens hood. And rummaging around in my camera bag, you know what I found? A polarizing filter to fit the 55mm and 52mm lenses! I've had the silly thing all these years and I've never used it!

I used it today, though. Be interesting to see how the pictures turn out, since it wasn't until afternoon that a man in a photo shop alerted me to the fact that you get different effects by turning the bezel . . . So that's what it's for!

Took my time climbing up to the cathedral. First I wandered along the River Wear, to view the edifice with the mill at its feet, as in so many photographs. It's very silvan and wild, in a civilized sort of way, along the banks. I heard somewhere some idiots wanted to put a motorway through there. I hope that idea's dead for good. People were fishing from the banks, or going sculling, the birds were singing and the daffodils blooming, all under a blue and cloud-blown sky.

Crossed over the stone bridge and made my way back towards the cathedral.

The Galilee Porch entrance is blocked shut and you have to come in through the north door, across the open garth.

Inside, the mutable light and shadows play upon the textures of the Norman piers and arches. But initially I was not at leisure to contemplate this aesthetic feast, as the interior is also well-populated by cathedral vergers or guardians, all in blue or dark red academic type robes, who are all cheerfully ready to tell you all about the cathedral's history, ancient and modern.

An example of the latter is the new Marks & Spencer stained glass window towards the west end on the north side. It's a symbolic view of the Last Supper, donated by the M & S grocery employees, a deed reverberant with historical precedent. I wasn't thrilled with it artistically at first but I suppose it grows on one . . .

The more ancient discussion bore on St. Cuthbert's reputed misogyny. It is my opinion that even if that had been true of him on earth Jesus wouldn't've put up with such nonsense once Cuthbert got to Heaven. In discussing this with the verger, it came up that of course, the Saxons were very favorable towards women taking leading roles in religious institutions, not to mention towards married priests, the latter custom being one which William the Conqueror and his Norman Benedictines (inspired by Gregory VII) were particularly anxious to suppress. And what better way than by propagating the story that the patron saint looked unfavorably upon women?

A highly enlightening conversation, but I was in a sweat lest the sun disappear altogether and I lose my light.

Thankfully, it did not. The Galilee Chapel was particularly luminous, and the dogtooth mouldings on the round arches showed up in high relief. The arcades run one after another the length of the chapel. The Venerable Bede is buried there; I wonder if I should invoke him when I'm swotting my history essays!

In the main nave it is interesting to see those little windows under those ribbed vaults. The 11th Century builders hadn't quite grasped the structural implications, yet . . . .

The textures in the piers are matched in pairs. They're all incised-- no paint, despite what I used to think.

I visited the tower. I'm a sucker for towers, no matter how many steps there are. The wind up there was extraordinarily strong. Forget about using the telephoto much-- despite the general sunniness I couldn't keep the camera sufficiently still. You could see all over, though-- the loop of the Wear and the suburbs and beyond.
The south choir aisle was wonderfully illuminated by the sun when I came back down.

Visited St. Cuthbert's tomb behind the choir; they have a curb with green things growing in it around it.

Then the Chapel of the Nine Altars, with its continuation of the Norman arcading.

It was starting to rain again as I moved out into the cloister, and it was really going a few minutes later. There's no proper silent closers on the doors to the bookshop and the door to the loos and they made the most awful racket, especially with the wind.

I worry about Durham Cathedral, with a bishop like David Jenkins (who doesn't think you have to believe in the Resurrection to be a Christian), but the contents of the bookstore were encouraging. A lot of evangelistic literature in amongst the postcards and reproduction jewellery.

I got a card to send Daddy for his birthday. Nearly forgot.

Skipped seeing the monks' dormitory, since it was nearly 1:00 and I still had things to do before leaving town.

Like buy lunch. And more film. The former I found for a few pence at a bakery, in the form of an onion and cheese pastie and a big round flat loaf of bread called a stottie, which they sold me for 23p.

Started raining with a vengeance, but if you waited a few minutes the sun would come out again, even as the rain continued to fall. After awhile getting nice and soaked in this I found a place that would sell me 400 ASA Ektachrome and mulcted £27+ out of my already-diminished bank account on five rolls.

Next point on agenda, called a B&B near Carlisle to see about booking a room for this evening. But they wanted £15 for a single and adjudged it'd take at least four hours to reach Oban from there. Didn't see doing it in time, so decided I'd better make it at least to Edinburgh for the night.

Ate the pastie in the car, then got out of town around 2:15, up the A1 in the direction of Warkworth. Along about Newcastle I began to wonder if I was going to make it there or anywhere. The rain turned to heavy blowing snow. I've never seen or driven through the like. Horizontal and fierce. I stopped at a Shell station for gas and nearly was blown off my feet. But by the time I filled the tank and had visited the loo, the snow had stopped and the sun was peeking out again. Weird weather.

I was really afraid I wasn't going to get to see Warkworth castle, since the catalog said it closed at 4:00. And between getting lost once and having to stop to ask directions at Felton and then getting stuck behind a truck carrying a mobile home for several miles on a narrow, winding road, it was well past then by the time I arrived. But I decided I could at least view the exterior.

But surprise, they were staying open till 6 PM, despite the reported hours. The National Trust [English Heritage, actually] has a little glass and metal booth tucked away just inside the gatehouse, with windows to close to keep the heat in. And well they might, since the wind was fierce despite the sunshine. They said they hadn't got any snow there, though.

It was pretty lonely there. The only other visitors at the time were a couple of businessman-looking types, one of whom might have been from Germany. And they left the new tower house (new in the 1400s, that is) as I made my way into it.

Cold, roofless, its upper storey gone, lifeless except for fluttering pigeons-- behold the grand house of the Percys of Northumberland! I tried to imagine it as it must've been, with plastered walls decorated with paint and tapestry, with the cunningly-framed timber roofs over the hall and chapel, with the glass in the windows (you could still see the glazing groove), with its carpets and lights and furnishings. And all those first floor store rooms crammed with casks and barrels of wind and beer and food, and all the servants being ordered up and down the back stairs to keep the family and their guests provided . . . .

You could see straight up the chimneys of the two great kitchen hearths. It looked, oddly, as if they'd been cleaned-- not a speck of soot on them.

They've put iron bars across the openings of the latrines, to prevent anyone from falling down them. I expect they had wooden seats originally.

Even though its hall isn't as big as the kind you had in the days when all your retainers ate with you, the new keep at Warkworth still impressed me with its size and extensiveness. There seemed to be room after room.

You can see the sea from the tower, to the east; and to the west it overlooks the River Coquet. The whole castle is surrounded by a great ditch. Daffodils grow on its sides now, though today they were flattened by the wind.

It began to rain and then to snow as I came out and was exploring the remains of the other castle buildings. I made extensive use of the polarizing filter, trying to capture the changing effects of the clouds. Hope it doesn't make the non-sky portions of the photos too dark.

Made a circuit of the outer walls, looking at the castle from all its angles. The town of Warkwork rises to the north. Back around to the south entrance, I went back in to take another look at the buildings, now that the sun was out again. I came out to find three vaguely familiar people shooting the facade. It was the Trinity College people from the B&B in Durham. They'd been to Hadrian's Wall in Hexham, and had just arrived here.

I wished them well and departed. But before getting on the road I tried to find the place from which they take the classic Warkworth-across-the-river picture. I was unsuccessful and had to chuck it: the sun was going down and I had to make it well into Scotland ere I could sleep tonight.

And so I did. It was well dusk when I crossed the border. It occurred to me that I've wanted to go there since before I was 15. I recall talking with my next door neighbor about it, how I'd developed a fundamental craving to go to Scotland some day. And now here I was. Don't worry, I didn't dishonor the occasion by singing touristy versions of Scottish songs. It was les chants de Berlioz and Schubert Lieder all the way.

Not much light left to appreciate the rolling Lowland hills, and soon the Weather rolled in. Just one more range of impressions on a meteorologically interesting day. It lashed with rain from time to time on the A1 up to Edinburgh. And then when I found the M8 and was nosing towards Glasgow, the snow and the hail started to come. I have never seen anything like it. It was as if the road was covered with rolling marbles. It was another 40-odd miles to Glasgow and I began to wonder if I'd make it. But I decided I had to.

And tomorrow I'll be going to Iona and somehow, it seems, things will be all right. At least, I won't have to worry about driving about!

The weather let up by the time I reached Glasgow, around 8:30, though not for lack of trying on the way. I got miserably lost around there two or three times before I finally found the Youth Hostel on Woodland Terrace. Nice old townhouse, rather insensitively cut up and ceiling-dropped. £6.10 for bed and breakfast. Doors don't lock here, unlike at the hostel in Chartres. But they do have wastebaskets in the room!


Sandy said...

I just love these entries. Thanks for taking me along. I've always wanted to go to Scotland... but you have to get on a plane to get there....

St. Blogwen said...

Yeah, gets expensive. These days, especially.

Or do you simply prefer not to fly?

Sandy said...

I like my feet firmly planted on the ground... isn't that sad? (Not to mention the rates for flights are going to be sky high (pun intended)!