Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spring Travel

The day of the Summer Solstice seems appropriate to sit down and publish a travelogue of my springtime season of travel. My Moon Diary, a pagan calendar Bob orders from a shop in Glastonbury every Christmas, tells me the time of the Solstice was 2:51 am, which means the Solstice was yesterday for you in the States. The BBC tells me that 18,000 people gathered at Stonehenge to watch the sun rise at 4:52 am. Sadly, clouds blocked the sunrise from view.  More important though is the opening of Wimbledon yesterday, and for the next two weeks, the heart of the nation will beat to the rhythm of the games, sets, and matches of the tennis court.

Suffolk and Essex

Our first spring trip to Ely was reported in my previous post. A week later we were back in East Anglia, this time in Suffolk, looking at the venue where Susan will be married in May next year.  Bruisyard Hall is a Tudor manor house, that was formerly a convent of the Franciscan Poor Clares, founded in 1364 for wealthy women where now where else to go, a situation medieval women often found themselves in. At the Dissolution, Henry VIII granted the manor to one of his supporters, and early in the 17th century the current owners acquired the manor.

The village is much older since the parish church has a superb Saxon tower.

A Tudor barn next to the Hall is being converted into a stunning wedding venue right now. We were all impressed with the beauty of the design and the careful work being done to match new construction with Tudor framing.
The Tudor Barn

The wedding venue

Waiting until next year

Bruisyard is in Benjamin Britten-Peter Pears country, so we headed over to the concert hall at Snape Maltings where the Aldeburgh Festival is held every June, right now as a matter of fact.
Art and Nature at Snape Maltings

Then we headed over to the pebble beach of the North Sea in Aldeburgh to see Maggie Hambling's controversial Scallop Shell sculpture. The piece commemorates Britten and is placed on the beach where he walked.  A small subset of local people despise the work, and it is regularly defaced with paint splashes and graffiti.

We stayed overnight in Ipswich, and for some reason my camera stopped working in the middle of the day so there are no photos of the wonderful medieval buildings in Ipswich, nor of the grounds of the fantastic Christchurch Mansion Museum with its eclectic collection including a extensive work by two local Suffolk boys, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable.

On the way home, we stopped off at three churches in Essex that were treasure houses of medieval carving. My camera returned to action for a bit in the late afternoon so I was able to capture a little bit of what we saw.
A squirrel and other animals at Lawford, Essex

Grotesques at Great Bromley, Essex


One problem in this country is that nearly all the national holidays are grouped together in a few springtime weeks. Easter is a 4-day weekend with Good Friday and Easter Monday, the first Monday in May is the Early May Bank Holiday. This is apparently quite a new holiday, brought in during the 1960s by a Labour government wanting a celebration to match the Socialist May Day holidays in much of Europe. Finally, the last Monday in May is the Late May Bank Holiday. Recently there has been discussion of shifting the Early May holiday to the autumn because at the moment there is only one holiday, an August Bank Holiday, between May and Christmas. The leisure and travel industry would love to extend the annual vacation season into the autumn with another three day weekend. That discussion was immediately quashed when the Labour opposition accused the Tory government of political motives in canceling a Socialist holiday.

We have spent most Easter weeks renting a National Trust cottage in different parts of England, but this year we decided to forgo the expense, until a few days before the holiday was upon us, when we looked at each other and said, "What could we have been thinking!" Bob trawled the Trust's website and found a cottage in Wales that was just a delightful place to spend a week. The hamlet of Cwmdu is owned by the Trust, and the Georgian terraced parade includes 3 cottages, a shop and post office, and a pub. The shop and pub are subsidized by the Trust and run by the community.
The Cwmdu terrace and our front door

Our charming living room

The view from our front window to the pub garden
We were staying in central southern Wales so we took day trips west and south to visit sites of interest.
St David's Cathedral
The birthplace of St David, Wales's national saint
At the National History Museum:
A traditional Welsh farmhouse with a beehive stone pig sty on the right
And here's the pig
A reconstructed Saxon village
Bluebells, the favorite spring flower
A historic church painted with bright artwork to recreate the interior
of a newly decorated medieval church

Not all religious art is erious
Noah's Ark
Dylan Thomas's Boathouse in Laugharne
Our bear Barley paying tribute at the grave in Laugharne

And to Caitlin too
The Gower Peninsula
Bob reading at Cefn Bryn, Arthur's Stone, a Neolithic tomb dated at 2500 BC
Georgian resort Aberaeron 
There were also some worthy sights nearby. The nearest town was Llandeilo with an ancient history. The parish church named for St Teilo has two Saxon carved cross heads that date from 900.

We also learned that the important Saxon illuminated manuscript we saw last year in Lichfield Cathedral, called the Lichfield or St Chad Gospel, spent much of its early life in Wales where it is known as the Llandeilo Fawr. The Gospel was written in the 8th century, and donated in 820 to the church where it remained until the late 11th century when it was transferred to Lichfield, probably as a gift from a Welsh prince to a Saxon King. The Llandeilo Church now has a computer generated copy of the gospel on display.

Not far from our cottage was the remains of a Premonstratensian Abbey built in 1185 in Talley.

We were quite sad to leave the little cottage for the trip back to London, but the Royal Wedding was about to get underway.

The Wedding

We didn't have a full week in Wales because I insisted we had to be back in London for The Wedding. And we were so glad to have made that decision because the festive atmosphere was pervasive and contagious. Even grumpy republicans quieted their criticism for the occasion.

We watched the pre-wedding departures and arrivals at home on TV, and stayed with the TV through the vows. Then we hopped on the Tube for the West End, following in the footsteps of the main events just after they happened.
A surging crowd leaving the Embankment
A very English picnic in Victoria Embankment Gardens

A real guest leaving the service holding the full-size programme

The crowds around Westminster Abbey

The balcony at Buckingham Palace

When we returned home in the late afternoon, Bob was so enthused, he insisted we order a collection of commemorative pottery. I insisted they had to be made in England, preferably in the traditional Potteries towns of Stoke-on-Trent which is the basket case city of a once thriving industry now outsourced to cheap production in Asia. That limited us to Burleigh (saved from another bankruptcy by Denby) and to Emma Bridgewater, whose line was very nearly sold out by the afternoon of the wedding.
Emma Bridgewater's Mugs, in two versions, with their wonderful boxes

. . .and her Plate

. . . and Bowl

Burleigh's 3-piece set based on their traditional pheasant pattern
The happy weekend was capped by a reunion dinner with a childhood friend who I had not seen in some 30 years. She always loved to be in the middle of a party, and she couldn't resist a chance to be in London for a royal wedding, and her lovely husband surprised her with a last minute ticket. We splashed out for a super meal at Richard Corrigan's restaurant in Mayfair.
Thumbs up to Facebook for the reconnection, and I hope they return soon for a longer visit.

Cambridge and London

Mid-May we trooped up to Cambridge to see Susan be awarded what we refer to as her "fake MA." One of the things we learned when Susan went up to Cambridge is that a perk of an Ox-bridge BA is that 6 years, or maybe 7 years, after matriculation, you receive an automatic MA, with no study required or payments made. These degrees can be appended to your name as MA(Oxon) or MA(Cantab). Both universities of course offer and award prestigious graduate degrees which do require both work and tuition, but those degrees are MPhil's and DPhil's.

Conferment of degrees, fake or not, was adopted 800 years ago and is called the Congregation of the Regent House. Guests and graduates file in and out of the Senate House every 45 minutes, as each college or group of colleges is given an allotted time slot.
The Senate House designed in the 1720s by architect James Gibbs
The ceremony is conducted entirely in Latin with endless bowing and nodding between the officials presiding. The degree candidates are introduced by the head of their college to the Vice-Chancellor, or his stand-in, they kneel, offer their hand, receive a blessing, rise and nod conspicuously, then file out of the building.

No photography is permitted in the Senate House, and my camera, or perhaps something I did inadvertently, made my post-ceremony pictures very wonky, but it is the best I have.
Susan Buhr  MA(Cantab)

Susan is currently studying and paying for a real master's degree from Birkbeck College at the University of London and has just been awarded a fellowship to pursue a doctorate at the University of Leicester.

The next day, to move from academic to wedding mode, Susan and I went to the Sunday morning Columbia Road Flower Market to see what flowers appealed to her.
In the end the beautiful Sweet Peas won our hearts


Conveniently, Bob had to be in Paris on business on the Thursday and Friday of the week before the Late May Bank Holiday, so we were able to have nearly a week holiday in Paris—at least for me since I did not have to work on Thursday and Friday as Bob did.  We took the Eurostar on Wednesday night, and since it was business, our hotel was in La Défense, the Canary Wharf, or the Wall Street, of Paris. Planners once talked about "human scale" buildings and development. La Défense is as far from human scale as one can get, but certainly impressively monumental.

La Defénse Arch
Canyons of glass . . .
. . .but in the middle, a garden with flowering dogwood, my favorite tree,
left behind in New Jersey because they don't grow in Massachusetts or London
The French bastion of business is built over a huge military cemetery
I spent my two "working days" shopping. On Thursday, I went to Marché Saint Pierre, the discount fabric district at the base of Montmartre.
Metro stop at the base of Montmartre with Guimard's Art Nouveau ironwork

After that I was so caught up in the world of fabric, I forgot my camera entirely. I had great luck in the discount shops where a cotton "coupon"—a precut of 3 metres — cost 10 euros for the most part.

On Friday, I went to the big department stores Galerie Lafayette and, my favourite, Le Bon Marché.
Galerie Lafayette's central Dome

The Dome's stained glass roof

Detail of the painted decoration

Friday night, we moved to a hotel we booked through hotels.com that was the most wonderful hotel we have found in Paris. On a tree-lined street a block from the Luxembourg Gardens with a fantastic old fashioned bistro next door. We hardly moved for the remainder of the weekend!

That's not entirely true. We went to a Redon retrospective at the Grand Palais and a medieval music concert at the Cluny Museum.
Walking through the Tuileries
Doing what the locals do. Lounging in the Luxembourg Gardens on a Sunday
We returned to London on Monday relaxed and well-fed.

Chichester and Salisbury

This past weekend we headed to two of our favorite small cities to see museum exhibitions that we did not want to miss. Both Chichester and Salisbury have fabulous cathedrals, but we had no time for them this weekend.

The Pallant House in Chichester has a fantastic collection of British art housed in an old house that has recently been extended with a new wing with excellent exhibition space. We were there to catch the Robin and Lucienne Day exhibit. Lucienne's fabric and Robin's furniture set the model for post-war modern design. Molded plastic stacking chairs and waiting room benches are just part of the interior landscape for us all, but once upon a time, they didn't exist until someone designed them.  There was also a exhibit of illustrations by Mervyn Peake, best known for the Gormenghast trilogy of books. Pallant House also has the best museum restaurant in England, and we were lucky to secure a table for a great meal.

We had pretty awful weather with high winds and driving rain squalls, but we managed to find three wonderful churches open on the drive from Chichester to Salisbury along the Portchester Ridge with broad views across Portsmouth and the English Channel. Well the views would have been much better without the stormy weather.

The Saxon Church at Boarhunt, Hampshire
The interior at Boarhunt
Sunday morning we had breakfast in the coffee shop at Salisbury Cathedral, and wandered around the lovely Cathedral Close waiting for the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum to open at midday for the Constable and Salisbury exhibition. John Constable's name is associated mostly with his birthplace in Suffolk and with Hampstead, but he spent important time in Salisbury too where he was patronised by the Bishop and became close friends with the Bishop's nephew and namesake John Fisher. Constable painted the cathedral and the landscape around Salisbury, including nearby Stonehenge, on his visits. The museum has collected paintings, oil sketches, watercolours, and drawings made during these visits. As a student of Constable's Hampstead work, it was interesting to see the places he visited in between his Hampstead sojourns. 

John Fisher's House in Canons Row, Salisbury,
now a pre-pre school for girls
Salisbury Cathedral from an angle painted by Constable 
This local museum had an extensive collection of costumes and of local cultural and natural history including an interesting room about Stonehenge, and another on Old Sarum, the original Salisbury settlement. We realised we had never been to Old Sarum, an Iron Age fort continuously occupied until the early 13th century when the inhabitants demolished the Norman cathedral in favor of a new cathedral in the valley below, and the whole town moved down the hill to the present location. By mid-afternoon we were hungry, and our Michelin Pub Guide directed us to another excellent meal, where we arrived 5 minutes before the 3 pm food cut-off. Our usual experience is to arrive 5 minutes after the cut-off. Old Sarum was still on spring hours, and there we missed the closing time by 5 minutes, but we were still able to walk around the outer ramparts, and also the weather had cleared into a glorious sunny day.

The ditch at Old Sarum
The view of the "new" cathedral in Salisbury from the site
of the "old cathedral" on Old Sarum
The view from Old Sarum
And that completes our springtime travels.