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!

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