Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In the footsteps of the Anglo-Saxons: West Stow and Cambridge

Note: This post was written the day of the Cambridge trip, but not posted until now, and as such is very, very behind.

This morning we left early in the day and drove to West Stow, where we arrived just before it opened. This was a definite plus, because we missed the swarms of kids who showed up later in their school groups! The village is absolutely gorgeous (in a very stark and functional way), and very quiet except for the odd rooster crowing next door. It was a spine prickling experience to be walking literally in the footsteps of the Anglo-Saxons, as West Stow is built on the foot print of the original Anglo-Saxon village. The site also included a museum/exhibition and shop, and I took SO many pictures. (The ones included here are only the very best of nearly 75 pictures!)

The village is comprised of about six houses, I think, and also contains a pig stye, a smithy/craft building protecting the forge, and the hall. There is also a garden with herbs and other food stuffs. Each of the houses is reconstructed based off of the archaeological footprints left behind by the original structure, and they demonstrate the evolution of our understanding of the way they might have been built. As far as I can remember, there is only one reconstruction that is believed to be completely wrong. (It also appears to be one of the only ones I didn't take an individual picture for...) 

Warrior guarding the garden!

The pig pen

The exterior or the workshop

Workshop interior

The workshop

The outside of the workshop

a coracle 

Decoration above the door of the hall.

The hall

Hall interior 

One of several looms in the Weaving House

Wool in the Weaving House

The Sunken House (this is the least accurate of the houses...)

... but it has a lovely carved door frame!

Even with all those firs, I wouldn't want to sleep there... (Interior of the Living House)

The museum portion was divided into two parts, the first part of which was viewed before the village, and contained findings from archaeological digs in West Stow, Bury St. Edmunds, and the surrounding countryside. It included items such as swords, pottery and the like, ranging from  the stone age to Anglo-Saxon times which was absolutely incredible.  We visited the second half of the exhibit after we saw the village, and it was mostly a timeline of the site, demonstrating aspects of life and history. Unfortunately, I have no photographs from that part of the exhibit, but I do have a few postcards of the beautiful dresses they recreated. (At some point, I'll take a picture of my rapidly growing postcard collection, and annotate it or something.)

The Parker Library
After that, we drove up to Cambridge, where my mom and I met Dr. de Hamel for lunch (which we ate in the great hall of Corpus Christi College, which is an incredibly ornate and splendid room. After lunch, we went to the Parker Library, and I got to HOLD and LOOK THROUGH the Winchester Manuscript (aka one of the surviving copies of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) AND King Aethelstan's personal copy of Bede's Ecclesiastical History. I don't think I've quite comprehended the fact that I touched SO MUCH HISTORY. We also saw many of the other old manuscripts there, including the Bury Bible, a copy of Chaucer's Troylus and Creside, the Corpus Glossary, and Ancrene Wisse. I still can't believe I held books belonging to or commissioned by Anglo-Saxon kings. The manuscripts were all beautiful, and Dr. de Hamel was very kind, and told us so much about all of them. 

Corpus Christi College quad (definitely CCC, but not sure if it's the quadrangle or not)
After my mom and I staggered out, in a state of shock at our proximity to great history, we went to a tea shop to gather our wits. The tea was quite good, and we followed that up with a lighting quick visit to King's College Chapel, the architecture of which is breathtaking. 

The HISTORY in such a place makes my little history buff heart very, very happy. The chapel was constructed by Kings Henry VI, Edwards I-III, Richard III, and both the Henry Tudors. Because of this, the heraldry of these kings is all over the chapel - the leopard/lion of the English kings, the Tudor and Lancastrian roses, the Fleur de Lys of France, the dragon of Wales, and the portcullis and greyhound of the Beaufords. Aren't you impressed by my knowledge?

Welsh dragon and Beauford greyhound, Tudor Rose and Beauford portcullis

The Rood Screen

Rose and Fleur-de-Lys

The Court of King's College

The front of King's College
After THAT, we met up with our friends and went punting on the river Cam. I didn't punt, but my mom did, and I helped paddle a bit. We had a few close calls, and nearly knocked our heads on several of the bridges, but we escaped unscathed, and a great time was had by all! 

Punting on the Cam

St. John's from the river

All in all, the final verdict is that while I think that I would rather go to Oxford for school, I think I'd rather live, or at least spend more time in Cambridge. Or maybe that's just because today was a gorgeous day, not too hot, and because we had a few specific things we went to see, rather than spending so much time wandering around in the sun. 

So far, England is still really living up to everything I'd imagined. It's unbelievable. So many things are SO old, and it's just NORMAL! I honestly never want to leave. 

Travelling through time and space! (Or sitting in Cambridge. I've noticed many TARDIS blue doors in England. I'm sure it's not deliberate, but I definitely approve.)

On to London!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

City of Dreaming Spires

Note: This was WRITTEN the day of the Oxford trip, but then I got very busy, and very behind, and thus it is very late.

Today we went to Oxford after a leisurely (on my part) breakfast. The drive was lovely, about forty five minutes long,  and the area our friends live in is BEAUTIFUL. Everything looks exactly the way I'd hoped England would.

Unfortunately, the trip reminded me of exactly why I am such a bad tourist/sightseer. The minute it gets really warm, I get tired and cross, especially once I get hungry, and then nothing is particularly impressive any more, and I just want to sit down and not move for a while. Fortunately, it never got quite  that bad today, but it was a near thing. (As in by the time we got to the Bodlian Library in the afternoon, I was too tired to care whether or not we actually went on a tour of the place.) But other than that, Oxford was amazing. Although it threatened to rain, it didn't do much more than drizzle, and then it cleared up, and if it hadn't been for the HEAT, it would have been perfect. (Of course, here I am complaining that 80 degrees was too hot, when NYC is in the middle of a heat wave, but given that the weather has been in the sixties mostly, it WAS rather miserable by comparison!) This trip definitely confirmed for me that I'd love to live and go to school in Oxford, in a perfect world, where I could do exactly what I liked and didn't have to worry about money.

Anyway, we got to Oxford around lunch time, but wandered about before eating on the steps of one of the buildings facing the New Bodlian Library, which is under heavy construction. Then we wandered around a bit until two, when our tour left. Amusingly (or annoyingly) enough, by some chance, we had walked around in all of the places the tour went, but while we didn't see anything new, at least we learned about what we had already seen.

Among the most interesting locations (for me) were Merton College, the Bodlian Library, and the Radcliffe Camera. 
The Radcliffe Camera

The Bridge of Sighs. Apparently we have one because Cambridge has one, and everything Cambridge has, Oxford also must have.

Unfortunately, as it was accepted students day, we weren't able to go IN to any of the colleges, but we were able to walk around the outsides of them, which was tortuously tantalising. However, we're hoping to come back to Oxford at the end of our trip, and then maybe I'll be able to go into Merton and the others. My interest in Merton is twofold, firstly because Tolkien taught there, and secondly because if I am lucky enough to go to Oxford, chances are  I'll be at Merton. The outside of Merton, however, is quite lovely. There were even roses rambling along the back wall! 

Dear Old Merton

Merton College Chapel

one of the oldest buildings in Oxford, if I'm not much mistaken!

The Bridge of Sighs again

Didn't know Edmund Halley lived in Oxford!

The entertainingly (now) named New College, which is, in fact, quite old.

Probably Merton again

Merton Roses

Merton Chapel

The Camera again

The Bodlian!

detail of the gate of the Bodlian

Inside the Divinity School

The amazing roof of the Divinity School

By the time the tour ended, I was completely exhausted, and warm (it was in the eighties! In ENGLAND!) and we took refuge in the Eagle and Child (aka The Bird and the Baby of Inkling fame), and sat under the plaque about the Inklings while drinking pints of lemonade. It was excellent, and just what was needed. I think my brain has failed to quite register that I was in some of the same places that Tolkien and Lewis frequented, which might explain why I'm still coherent..

You've had a whole half already!!

After we had sat there for some time, being fortified by our lemonade, and having conversed with another American girl, about my age who had also come to pay tribute to the Inklings, we drove to a charming place called The Trout Inn for dinner. 

For those of you who watch Inspector Morris (I, unfortunately, am not  one of these), our friends who ARE Inspector Morris fans had seen the Trout on the show, and were curious to see if it was good. It was indeed. First of all, the inn is HUGE, having not only an expansive indoor seating area but also an extensive outdoor seating area right on the Thames. There was also a peacock, of all things, in residence! The food was absolutely delicious, and we had the most scrumptious lemon tart for dessert.  

On the way back from the Trout Inn, we drove by Milton's Cottage, AND William Penn's grave. Penn's grave is on the grounds of a Quaker meeting house, which is still used today, and is not far from a barn whose structure reputedly contains beams from the Mayflower! We got back to Chalfont St Peters very late, and between exhaustion and an excellent dinner, I even fell asleep in the car! Which normally doesn't happen!

The meeting house

Milton's Cottage, unfortunately a bit blurry.
All in all, a very successful, if slightly overwhelming day! I hope we get the chance to go back and see the insides of the colleges, the library, and get out to some of Tolkien's old haunts, like the house on Northmoor Road where he wrote most of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings...