The stuff of legend

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Today was a Bank Holiday in England and once the torrential rain stopped at lunchtime Sigoth and I ventured out into the spring sunshine, swathed against the elements and blinking in the light like newly hatched chicks. Of course, the obvious destination in these circumstances was some ruined buildings, so we headed for Kirkham Priory.

Scrambling about medieval piles of masonry is a bit of a treat for us. We like the peacefulness of the site, the texture of the stone, the play of shapes and light, the stories in the guide books, the humorous gargoyles and the fresh air. The average ancient monument has a tendency to be in rather decent countryside and the abbeys and priories of Yorkshire, of which there are many, are often in absolutely stunning locations.

Kirkham Priory is next to the railway line so I have a fondness for it based on the fact that whenever I see it on the train heading east I know I am nearly home. Between the railway and the masonry is the River Derwent, the famously perverse waterway that enjoys notoriety for its meandering path away from the sea; it rises in the North Yorkshire Moors, heads towards the coast then swerves away at the last moment before heading inland until it is seduced into the Ouse, swept to the Humber and finally meets its oceanic destiny near Hull. And serve it right too, the cheeky scamp.

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At Kirkham there is a pretty bridge and an old level crossing from the days when there was a station, pre-Beeching. Now it’s just an English Heritage ticket office and plenty of buoyant moss underfoot as you clamber up and down the site. The buildings are split level due to the slope of the ground, with the cloister starting at ground level at one end and finishing on the first floor at the other.

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The church is sadly diminished but once had a gorgeous Rose Window, which you have to try to imagine as you gaze at the stub of stone that remains.

Once we had finished wandering around we called back in at the ticket office which also operates a small shop, and bought a guide to Wharram Percy. This is a deserted medieval village not too far from Kirkham, and free to enter so long as you don’t mind squelching down a muddy slope about a quarter of a mile, with a number of kissing gates and a field of cows and calves to negotiate before you find yourself on a windy hillside looking at a roofless 18th century church, a mill pond and some lines in the ground representing medieval longhouses. I don’t mind at all, as you might guess.

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I know the site fairly well, but it’s always good to visit. Last time I went it was covered in snow; today there were new shoots on the hawthorn all the way down the path. I like a bit of hawthorn. In the pagan tree calendar the rune “Huath” represents May and the hawthorn, which in turn can be interpreted as the symbol of the triple goddess – maiden, mother and crone. At this time of year she gets her Maiden face on, with white blossom and green shoots. The path to the village runs between lines of hawthorn for most of its length, and in the sunshine you walk through a tunnel of green and white, surrounded by birdsong, sheltered from the wind and nurtured by romantic thoughts of Spring, the cycle of life and new beginnings, while wondering if this is what it felt like to return to the village along ancient trackways a thousand years ago. At least you do if you are EBL. You don’t worry about whether the path is the same in fact; it makes sense in a story about life in the Yorkshire Wolds throughout the millennia.

Increasingly fanciful, I wondered if we might appear as ghosts to the people of the past as we flitted between the rooms of their buildings, dressed strangely and clutching demonic devices. Were we the fairy folk of legends, or the devils that haunted good Christians in those days, just as some people claim to see ghosts of Roman soldiers wading along Hadrian’s Wall? Might the glimpses of people from the past in fact be the reflections of their glimpses of us, which they interpreted as things that go bump in the night? Are we in fact the stuff of legend?

I think the sunshine was making me giddy. I’m not used to it at this time of year and the winter has been so very dull.

I hope you are having sunshine and widly romantic daydreams, or at least a good ghost story.

Namaste.

 

 

 

Whitby Abbey

My dears, I have a few days holiday and I intend to spend them with Sigoth and as many of the Offspringses as possible. We are aiming for a confluence of bodies over the coming weekend, and until then I must manage with only one fully vacationing child for the first half of the week. The rest turn up Wednesday and Thursday. Treats will be perpetrated. Weather permitting there may even be excursions. Certainly there will be games and films and talk and wine.

Whitby AbbeyNaturally Sigoth and I were keen to get some practice in regarding excursions, so we took the early-vacationing Offspring to Whitby Abbey on Monday. We do like our ruins, and there are so many around this area it can be hard to know where to start. Funnily enough we have never started with Whitby, or even ended with it, until now.

Inside Whitby AbbeyThe Abbey itself is not the original of course, the one founded by King Oswiu and presided over by the Abbess Hild from 657 AD, and the location of the Synod of Whitby in 664 AD to decide whether the English church would calculate Easter by the Irish or Roman method. Nor was it even the Benedictine one from the 1190s. No, this is the modern makeover one from the 13th century, standing proud on the headland looking over the sea cliffs and being embarrassed by a richness of fresh air, most of which is travelling with considerable speed and vigour.

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Back at the Abbey we wandered around the museum, pulling faces at the gargoyles on display, before having a cup of tea then heading off to town to find some fish and chips for lunch. There are steps to be climbed down in order to achieve this; you walk from the Abbey through the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin and arrive at the top of a long and winding stair. 199 of them to be precise.

Top of Whitby StairsThere are seats and waiting spaces at various intervals in case the climbers need a rest. In fact on our way back up there was an ambulance at the bottom dealing with someone who had been talken poorly.

The other big thing about Whitby Abbey is the connection with vampires. Bram Stoker had Dracula come ashore at Whitby and in recent years the town has become a centre of Goth attention as a result. There is a Goth festival every Halloween, and it remains popular with the alternative community throughout the year. The tourist shops sell either traditional Whitby jet jewellery or else Goth fashions. Both are black and ornate, so there’s a natural fit.

Changeable beach weatherIt was a blazing hot day on Monday though, with nary a Goth in sight, so we ate our fish and chips inside then waddled down to the beach before the rain set in. Being England, this was the inevitable consequence of a hot and sunny morning which tricked holiday makers into going down to the sand with no more protection than a knotted hanky on their head and a deckchair under their arms. English weather has a sense of humour.

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Dark clouds began to gather.

The seagulls hesitated then took to the skies with screams.

Suspicious shipIt was unclear whether they were perturbed by the change in air pressure or the arrival of a suspicious ship from Transylvania.

We went home and found the sun was still shining. It had rained while we were away, so we enjoyed the best of the weather all day. Sometimes things work out that way.

Namaste.