We had a good look at Wells Cathedral in Part 1, so let’s continue on to The Bishop’s Palace.
May 20, 2019
The grounds were fairly extensive, with opportunities to see many stages of development and abandonment. They also serve as space for art – both secular and religious – and even political expression.
Many of the ruins on the palace grounds are at least somewhat intentional. As parts fell into disrepair, the structures were modified to be “more picturesque” as successive bishops and architects sought to mold the expansive ruin to their own ideals.
The formal gardens and landscaping are indeed beautiful, and the views of the Cathedral itself are as worthy as any artistic masterpiece, in my opinion.
Similar to the city of Bath, Wells gets its name from the abundance of accessible groundwater and natural springs, many of which were harnessed or enhanced on the palace grounds.
The interior of the palace, including the chapel, is a progression and mixing of the various historical periods, spanning from the 13th century to modern day. In the essence of saving time, here’s a slide show of the interior shots.
Some interior shots of the Bishop’s Palace. Most of it is a museum and public space now, but the nearby Bishop’s House is still used as a residence and church office.
Both the church and the palace were immense and impressive, and it’s hard to portray the grandeur from these photos. With any impressive space, be it natural or human, it’s best to experience it in person. Hopefully that’s something that you can do one day, if it is in your means.
But our day was not over yet. We had some time to make an almost too-quick run to Cheddar, where we did buy and eat some “genuine” Cheddar Cheese, and make a brief drive up the gorge. Cheddar is a quaint village, and if we ever do return to the UK, I’d like to spend a little more time there.
The waters that carved the gorge and associated caves is the Cheddar Yeo, and it emerges above ground in the village. It’s been a traditional source of power for centuries.
We did some window shopping and I bought some local fudge before we headed back to Bristol for the evening, having had another full and satisfying day out with friends.
Hi everyone. A brief interruption to my UK trip updates, if I may…
The end of August found me and my boss in India, of all places, to provide some software and process training. The approval and planning happened with relatively short notice just as our workload was increasing, so I wasn’t even thinking about the blog in the run up to the trip.
But in any case, here’s a selection of photos and the eBird lists for the week+ I spent in Bengaluru!
[Note to Tumblr followers: I realize the WP photomosaics don’t always work right. I’ll try to reformat and repost for you as soon as I can!]
[Note: I realize it’s taking me some time to get through these posts. Please bear with me. It’s been a hectic summer]
May 18, 2019
Continuing our travels along the south coast of England, we drove back through Cornwall and to the ancient village of Marazion [map]. Off shore on the island of Saint Michael’s Mount is a castle and church that can be visited by foot during low tide. When the tide comes in, the causeway is submerged and the mount is only accessible by boat or amphibious vehicle.
The beach itself is quite flat, and when the tide is out one can wade quite far in places. A beach like this would be stacked with people, blankets, chairs, and fishing poles back home in Florida. Here, the beach was mainly empty, with people enjoying sea views from benches, restaurants, and shops from the village.
The castle and chapel are impressive, even at a distance and I imagine the views commanded from this vantage-point are impressive. People do live and work on the island, and an order of monks is active at the chapel.
The main part of the island was gated and closed, which seems a shame as there are extensive gardens and a museum I would have liked to see. I hear the geology is unique and impressive as well. But it was a lovely diversion nonetheless, but we couldn’t stay long as the tide was about to come in, which threatened to strand us on the island (or at least have to hire a boat) as the causeway would be inundated.
Meanwhile, back on the beach…
We walked back to the beach and then into Marazion, and had lunch at a cafe that had some local fare, known as a pasty. Pasties are a pastry filled with meat and root vegetables. Traditionally, they were miners’ food. The thick crust around the edge serving as a handhold that wasn’t normally eaten since the miners’ hands might be contaminated by arsenic or other poisonous substances related to mining.
From Marazion we worked our way west along the coast until we reached the ruins of the Botallack Mine, not far from the town of St. Just [map].
This stretch of coast has to be one of the most dramatic and impressive sights we saw in our whole trip. The juxtaposition of the natural beauty of the rocky coast and dramatic cliffs with the many abandoned mining structures makes for a nearly unparalleled visual experience. Add in the roar of the waves on the rocks below and the wildflowers blooming, and you can imagine what an experience this was.
As we approached the cliffs, a low fog was dispersing along the coast, which made the scene even more fantastical.
Seabirds were circling below (Northern Fulmars, as it happens) as waves and foam churned on the rocks. We were only able to walk so far down along the cliffs due to trail closures for safety.
The scope and scale of the cliffs are hard to grasp from photos alone. They are hundreds of feet high, some with very narrow places to walk out on. The lingering fog helped confuse the distance cues a bit, but added to the drama.
We were very near both Penzance and Land’s End, but we stopped at neither. On a future visit I would like to spend more time in this part of England and take it all in, natural and human.
We spent some time marveling at the scenery before climbing back out, past the mining houses and the furnace ruins, looking up at smokestacks that seem to defy gravity and the elements.
As we made our way back toward Bristol, we crossed into Plymouth by way of the Torpoint Ferry, rather than the bridge. It was fun.
Mrs. Lonely Birder and I got out of the car and went up on the deck and enjoyed some fresh air and a look at a few Royal Navy Ships. The ferries run on cables between both sides which is a safer, if more boring option for ferries ;-).
We eventually got back to Bristol and walked to the local pub (The Knowle) so those that imbibe could have a pint and we unwound a bit. On the way there, we passed some trees that have been decorated like fairy homes!
We ended the day out at the pub, in which Mrs. Lonely Birder saw a familiar friend, reminding us of our previous epic trip to Churchill, Manitoba! I’ll leave you with a couple of parting shots.
After spending most of our first week around Bristol and Somerset, we started our second week by heading southwest to the county of Devon and spent the day around Dartmoor National Park [map].
Dartmoor is an upland area covered in low vegetation and bogs, with granite outcrops (called tors) and very few trees. Large areas are covered in English Bluebells, which even in the intermittent morning overcast were beautiful. Ruth told us that the flowers were past their peak, but the vivid purple was still quite a sight.
There are few trees on the moor. The large, ancient forests that covered this land were slowly cleared over the centuries. Human activities, like grazing and farming changed the soil, making it acidic, further converting the land. A few trees do grow, and there are small sections of forest remaining, and there are restoration efforts under way in part of the park.
Dartmoor has hundreds of tors. These prominent high points, some topped with granite knobs or spires, are important landmarks and many can be seen for miles away (by the way, you may have noticed I’ve been using miles and feet in these UK posts. As metric as Britain is, roads and distances are more often still in “imperial” units).
Much like the Cheesewring (which we’ll see in a future post), these outcrops are completely natural. The shapes and apparent layers are due to persistent wind and water erosion over the course of many millennia.
For large parts of the moorland gorse and bogs dominate the landscape. Here is a patch of gorse without the iconic yellow flowers. This thick cover is ideal for protecting various bird species which nest or roost within. I saw Meadow Pipits, Eurasian Stonechats, and even a couple of skylarks.
Dartmoor is famous for it’s wild ponies. They can seem quite tame and will walk up to visitors and even touch you with their noses or flanks. But they are wild and should be treated with that level of respect. Many of the mares had foals.
As we wandered around near one parking area, one pony walked up to my wife and did in fact touch its nose to her hand. The mares were relatively unconcerned with our proximity to their offspring.
We drove to a few more vantage points around the park, including looks at the prison (“HM Prison Dartmoor”) and more tors. From there we made our way past Buckfastleigh and to the ruins of Holy Trinity Church [map]. On the adjacent cemetery grounds is the mausoleum of Richard Cabell, on whose legend and death Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.
Cabell was said to be an extremely angry and mean person, and would set his large dogs upon trespassers on his land. When he died, he was placed in a relatively unadorned mausoleum, beneath a heavy stone surrounded by iron bars, to “…prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood,” according to an early 20th Century travel guide to Dartmoor.
The church itself is in ruins now, victim of vandals and arson in the 1990s. The elements have deteriorated the structure and the headstones more quickly than one might expect. This, combined with lichens and mosses growing on the stone makes the churchyard look even older still.
The church, cemetery, and Sir Richard’s mausoleum are popular tourist attractions, and we saw a couple of tour groups and photographers making their way around the grounds.
We left Master Cabell and his company of headstones and started for home, though we’d visit Dartmoor a couple more times during our stay in the UK. You’ll have to stay tuned for those upcoming posts!
One of the great things about being in and around Bristol is its proximity to Wales. A relatively easy trip over the Bristol Channel and there you are. We were quite looking forward to seeing some of Wales in part due to the TV show Doctor Who. Many of the “new” series (since 2005) has been filmed in Wales, and the show’s spin-off, Torchwood, was based in Cardiff.
Our first stop in Wales that day was Southerndown Beach. Doctor Who fans might know it as the beach by “Bad Wolf Bay”, where Rose and The Doctor part (at least in term of Rose as a regular companion) after “Doomsday” at the end of series 2. The beach is beautiful, surrounded by cliffs and long stretches of sand at low tide.
After hanging out at the beach for a bit, we headed over to Cardiff. [map], and the now iconic Roald Dahl Plass and the Wales Millenium Centre.
The Millennium Centre is a beautiful structure, with materials chosen to reflect the history and heritage of the people of Wales. It’s steel clad dome pay homage to the steel industry, and other local materials like slate figure into the design. The words across the front of the dome are from Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh portion says, “Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen”, which means “Creating Truth Like Glass From Inspiration’s Furnace.” The English words are “In These Stones Horizons Sing”.
Nearby to Roald Dahl Plass is the Senedd, or the Wales National Assembly. The political relationship among the countries in the United Kingdom isn’t always clear to Americans. Wales is a separate nation from England (as is Scotland and Northern Ireland), but for various reasons, Wales has traditionally enjoyed less self-rule than other parts of the UK. Without delving into politics of which I am a hopeless novice, I’ll just say that a degree of autonomy was attained in 1997 and the creation of a National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaetho Cymru). While the modern Senedd building is where the Assembly meets and does its business, they acquired the nearby neo-Gothic Pierhead Building for use as an exhibit space and community center.
Originally built for the Bute Docks Company, it was later used by the Cardiff Railway Company. The building is rather stunning in its setting, uncluttered by other architecture. The edifice is imposing, as befitting a 19th Century capitalist endeavor, of which both the docks and the railroads were.
It was a beautiful day to walk a bit around Mermaid Quay, the main shopping area at Cardiff Bay, looking out over the water.
As a bay-side city, the area was well represented by gulls, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, in about equal measure.
While looking for a place to eat lunch, we walked away from the waterfront and I saw this sign, which did make me laugh. I’m no beer drinker, but how can you not love a brewery named Brains (even with the provocatively missing apostrophe)?
After lunch at a place called Eli Jenkins, we made our way out of Cardiff and north to the city of Caerphilly and the medieval castle there [map]. Caerphilly Castle is a magnificent ruin in the center of the city, surrounded by a moat and green spaces.
The castle was built in the 13th Century, and was an impressive stronghold for a couple of hundred years. Its concentric design was influential in many subsequent castles throughout Britain.
The castle site is quite large, and the towers have many worn and narrow steps. Most of the rooms are barren, with missing wall sections and closed-off staircases. Some parts of the parapets have been restored and can be walked along.
The interior of the castle has been preserved in some state of ruin or left empty and unadorned, except for the Great Hall.
The whole site is amazing and expansive. Here’s a little slide show with a few more photos.
The moat and surrounding lakes are full of ducks and geese, some feral domestic stock and some wild or at least established in the wild. Many of the geese had goslings of various ages, too.
There were also Common Swifts and Barn Swallows swooping around the castle grounds grabbing insects. There was one attendant Common Raven, suffering from some sort of dermatological problem or other health issue. It was missing much of its neck feathers.
It was getting to late afternoon and so we made out way back out from the castle to head home. Somewhat like at Stonehenge, I had a feeling of deep appreciation of the skills and pressures of the people of the past. Caerphilly Castle was built in just 3 years – an incredible feat no matter what the motivation or means. It’s impressive but relatable, and such encounters can only be enriching and enlightening.
I’ll leave you with one parting shot, emblematic of the state of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic.
Well into our first week, we decided to check our the ancient city of Bath [map]. Known to the Romans as Aquae Sulis, it was probably a sacred site to the local Celts before that.
The central fixture for the crowds and activity in Bath these days is the parish church, Bath Abbey. The abbeys and monasteries run by the Catholic Church in the 16th century were mostly destroyed and abandoned under orders of Henry VIII after he split the Church and declared himself the head of the Church of England. Some of the structures survived and were repaired or rebuilt afterwards, and then used by the Church of England. In this case Bath Abbey retains its moniker though it is no longer used as an abbey. The pinnacles, flying buttresses, and much of the interior were completed in the 19th Century based on Victorian ideals of Gothic architecture. It’s a well blended masterpiece.
I think we sometimes tend to think of “old” buildings and design as either ephemerally lofty or stoic and practical. But many of the forms and expressions in Gothic design are almost whimsical or contain an inside joke. Although rooted in scripture (Jacob’s Ladder), there’s a undeniable whimsy in the climbing angels on the abbey’s west side.
The church is made from locally quarried stone that has a golden yellow tint. Many of the older structures are made from this stone. The darker stone from the flying buttresses and the differential weathering of the stonework adds contrast and makes the structure even more dramatic.
The interior is splendid, as well. The fan vaulting over the west end of the nave is centuries newer than that of the east end, but the differences are subtle. The design isn’t just decorative, but helps distribute the weight of the roof via columns and buttresses.
Like most large churches, Bath Abbey has continued to have art commissioned and commemorated throughout the centuries. From the 18th through early 20th centuries, it was common to have elaborately carved memorial plaques made to honor a dead patron or their families. People continue to be inspired to make art for worship, reflection, and activism to this day.
It was mid to late morning when we finished our tour of the abbey, so we made our way to Sally Lunn’s Eating House to try their famous “Sally Lunn Bunns”. Sally Lunn was a woman who came to Bath from France with a recipe for a brioche-like bun that she perfected and has been passed down through the centuries. The house she ran a an eatery was already 200 years old when she lived there.
My wife, Ruth, and I each tried a different sweet bunn – mine was covered in chocolate butter. They looked so good and we were so hungry, it didn’t occur to us to take photos of them until we were done!
There’s a small museum and some artifacts that were found on a dig at the site, which has been occupied and adapted over the years. Many of the lower levels of buildings in Bath that are basements now were ground level floors hundreds of years ago.
After our brunch, we walked down to Pulteney Bridge, a stone bridge over the Rive Avon with shops all along the bridge itself. In fact, if you didn’t know you were on a bridge, it would just look like another quaint, if slightly narrow, street.
Bath is so named because the Romans took advantage of the local hot springs to build spas and bath houses. Although in ruins by the 5th Century, the springs were “rediscovered” and back in use as early as the 12th Century. The springs and the Roman ruins have preserved and are now housed in 18th century neoclassical buildings.
We spent a bit more time walking the city, browsing the shops and enjoying some green spaces. As I mentioned before, many of the buildings in the older section of the city are made of the local stone (called Bath stone, as you might imagine). It does make for a warm, unified look.
I noticed tall walls extending past the roof-lines of some of the building rows, topped with chimneys. Ruth told us these are designed to prevent fires from spreading along the rows of flats. A lesson learned from a history of devastating city fires, typified by the Great London Fire of 1666. Catastrophic fires were known in most cities until safety and building codes, as well as firefighting practices and equipment developed enough to prevent and combat them.
On a high point overlooking the city is a long, curved row of apartments called The Royal Crescent, partly enclosing a lawn on which many people were catching the sun or reading books.
Bath is a lovely city and we had a good sampling of its history and geography.
We kept our schedule as flexible as possible for this trip, making many decisions on where to go and what to see the evening beforehand. We tried to make the trip a mix of tourist destinations and “local” living, with varying degrees of success.
One event we did schedule in advance was an owl encounter at the North Somerset Bird of Prey Centre [map]. This facility rescues animals in need or abandoned with a focus (as its name suggests) on birds of prey. They also have a selection of mammals and other animals.
Our encounter included close-up looks and interaction with five different owl species, some local to the area, some not. I’ve loved owls since I was a young child, and my wife and I both have a soft spot for raptors in general.
All the owls loved having their breast feathers stroked and were generally well behaved and in excellent health. These birds were rescued or rehabilitated and certainly have found a happy home at the Centre. Here are the owls we met, with lots of bonus shots of yours truly (a rare enough thing for this blog)!
After we all got to hold and interact with the owls, we each took part in a flight/hunt demonstration. Cherish was held by a volunteer on a perch a few dozen yards away, and we each held a piece of chicken in one hand and our other, gloved hand out as a perch. Cherish would then quickly fly and swoop up to take the chicken. This happened so fast that neither of us had an opportunity to get our cameras or phones out for a shot! Darn…
Bonus: Christmas Dinner at the Thomas’
When we returned home we had a lovely Christmas dinner with Ruth’s parents, Paula and Eric, in their downstairs flat. We had turkey (smoked on Darrens’ Kamado grill), roasted potatoes, Brussels sprouts and more. We finished with Christmas Pudding for desert and pulled open Christmas Crackers. It was festive and fun, and I can’t say enough how generous, sweet, and kind Eric and Paula are to have done this for us. They had also decorated the entrance to the house with the Union Flag and American Flag to welcome us.
A full stomach and a full spirit, what more can one ask for?