Monday, 23 September 2013

Abbeys and Castles

On Saturday I headed off to Beverley. Yes, there is a place called Beverley which is just north of Hull. It is the repository of records for the East Riding of Yrokshire but, then, all the Yorkshire records are randomly scattered over numerous repositories so it is very hit and miss whether the archive being visited has the records you would expect.

The drive to Beverley was very pleasant. It took me through some lovely countryside and small settlements. getting into Beverley did not present any problems and parking was straightforward as it was a Saturday.

Overall, I had a pretty good day getting some useful information.

As I returned to the car I was greeted by a peal of bells from the Beverley cathedral. Very pleasant.

The retunrn drive was without incident if you discount having to stop to let a duck waddle across the road to rejoin its feathered friends and the twenty of so pheasants I had to wait to get off the lane as i approached home.

Trevor had spent a quiet day at home base. He had wandered down to Snainton and checked when the church services were scheduled to be held so that I could actually see inside the church. This week the Sunday service is 9:30am.

When we had visited Scarborough Castle we were persuaded to purchase a 9 day overseas visitor pass for hertitage sites. This fitted in well for us as it is valid through until Thursday 27th. Trevor planned out a whole list of sites to visit and I added a couple that I wanted to see. we dropped one of the ones close by as we can get to it during the week. The rest presented a formidable list.

The weather was fine and wam. Actually, the temperature reached 20, and most of the day only had sporadic white, fluffy clouds. It was a lovely day to be out and about in the English countryside.

Many of the farmers were working their fields preparing them for the planting of winter crops. Unfortunately, this also meant that travellers had to contend with large tractors and other farm machinery moving along the very narrow roads. Many of the farms buildings are away from the fields which means tht the farmers need to get to their fields along the roads. It all adds to the fun of driving along narrow country roads.

We set off at 9:10 so that we could visit the church at Snainton before the Sunday service. When we arrived the bell, there is only one, was tolling to call the faithful to the service.

While Trevor stayed in the car, so that we would not be parked in, I went into the church. I was greeted warmly by everyone I came  across. Visitors are obviously rare. The church building is not the Norman one that my Coverley ancestors would have known. That fell into disrepair around 1835 and was eventually replaced. The font, which dates from the early 12th century has had an intesting life. When the church fell into disrepair the font ended up on a farm and was used as a pig feeder. It was eventually reclaimed, rededicated and now proudly stands in the rebuilt church.

The 12th century baptismal font in the Snainton church

Heading west, our first real stop of the day was at Helmsley Castle.

After parking in the market square we walked along a couple of narrow lanes to the castle site.

Helmsley castle is surrounded by spectacular banks and ditches.

Most of Helmsley's surviving stonework defences were raised during the 12th and 13ht centuries by Robert de Roos and his descendants. They include a pair of immensley strong entrances and the high keep-like east tower which still dominates the town of Helmsley. The defences were dismantled following a siege in 1644, during the Civil War.

The remains of the East Tower at Helmsley Castle

The South Gate
Our next stop was Rievaulx Abbey.

The abbey was established in 1132 with the arrival of twelve Clairvaux monks. From these modest beginnings it grew into one of the wealthiest monasteries of medieval England.

Rievaulx was still a vibrant community when Henry VIII dissolved it in 1538. This was followed by the systematic destruction of the buildings. Even so, much still remains to show what a fantastic site it must have been in its heyday.
Our first view of Rievaulx Abbey

We stopped and had a cup of coffee at the abbey site before tackling the hour drive to Richmond. Yes, we had been to Richmond and seen the castle from the outside but that is not quite the same as seeing the inside. Tom, our sat nav, managed to take us past some of the places we had walked through or past on our Coast to Coast hike. It was a bit odd seeing them from a car moving at much greater speeds than we achieved on foot.

We arrived in Richmond a little after 1 o'clock and proceeded to the market square which is close to the castle and also provides free parking for the first two hours. It would if you could find a parking spot! We eventually managed to secure a spot and grabbed some lunch before heading off to the castle.

As you could see from the photos that I included when we passed through Richmond on the walk, the castle is sited on a promontory above the River Swale. it overlooks the picturesque market town situated at the foot of Swaledale (the Swale valley, a dale being a valley).

Richmond castle is among the oldest Norman stone fortresses in Britain. It was begun abour 1070 by one of the supporters of William the Conqueror.

The towering keep, added about a century later, stands over 30m high with walls up to 11 feet (3.35m) thick. The keep is remarkably complete and it is possible to climb to the top for some glorious views over the castle's great courtyard, the town of Richmond and the Yorkshire Dales beyond.

According to legend, King Arthur lie sleeping in a cavern beneath the keep. we didn't see them so cannot verify if this is true or not.

Richmond Castle Keep

View from the Keep over the castle courtyard

View from one of the windows in the Keep

Trevor up near the top of the Keep

Check out the thickness of the walls in the Keep
Easby Abbey lies a short distance outside of Richmond, about a mile downstream from Richmond Castle on the banks of the River Swale, and it was our next stop. This was yet another impressive site. It was founded in 1152 and the monks were either executed or dispersed in 1637 at Henry VIII request. Henry has a lot to answer for!

By this stage we were getting a little abbeyed out and my camera was suffering from a lack of sustenance.

We still had more sites on our list.

Middleham castle was traditionally the favourite home of Richard III, and was certainly his northern power-base. Richard III probably spent part of his youth at Middleham Castle, in the guardianship of Richard neville, known as 'Warrick the Kingmaker'. After Warricks's death in battle, part of the War of the Roses, Richard married his daughter Anne and took over the castle.

I am currently reading Phillippa Gregory's book The Kingmaker's Daughter, the story of Anne Neville, so the visit to Middleham Castle provided a context to much of my recent reading.

Finding a parking spot in Middleham was almost as finding one in the Market Square at Richmond. As it was a fine, warm day everyone was out in force taking advantage of the lovely weather. Drat!

The views from the top of the Keep of Meddleham Castle were outstanding and it is easy to see why Richard and Anne were so fond of this particular place. They certainly spent quite a bit of time at Middleham.

Statue of Richard III in the grounds of Middleham Castle

Part of the surviving sections of the castle

View over the gatehouse from the Keep

View over the countryside from the top of the Keep

Part of the remaining outer wall on the northernside with a defensive ditch
 After getting a drink in the Richard III we headed back to our car.

The original plan was to visit Byland Abbey followed by Aldborough Roman Site. It quickly became apparent on leaving Middleham that we would not be able to visit both. A check of the opening days made the decision easy. Aldborough was only open on weekends. Byland Abbey was open from Thursday to Monday so Aldborough it was. According to the information Trevor had we should have parked about a mile from the site and then would need to walk. We drove up to a spot a mere 50m from the entrance. So much for the mile walk.

There is little visable remains on the site. A couple of sections of mosaic remain in situ and these are protected by sheds with viewing windows. There are a number of sections of the outer town wall visable above ground level but not much more. In the site entrance there are a number of display cases with finds from the site and these alone were worth a visit. There ceramics, tools, decorative items and other bits and pieces showed the skill of the craftmen who supported the Romans and their way of life.

Leaving Aldborough we headed for home. This meant skirting around York. The city has a ring road and I swear that there is a roundabout every kilometre. No sooner had we got through one roundabout before being told by Tom that another was coming up in less than a k. I lost count of the number we negotiated before breaking free of York. We were pleased to be heading away from York as the traffic heading towards York was at a crawl.

Today had definitely been a day of castles and abbeys with each site being in a state of ruin. We still have a couple of sites on our list which we will visit before we head south to London on Friday if we have the energy to do so.

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