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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Bookshop in the Old Train Depot

The trains don't run through Alnwick, Northumberland any longer.  The Victorian-era depot was built a bit grander than other small town depots along the line because the Duke of Northumberland would await his train down to London there and others of the landed class would arrive at the depot for shoots and balls at Alnwick Castle and then depart through it. The Victorian era depot wasn't torn down, though, when the trains stopped. It sat empty for a time and then Barter Books took up residence.

On entering the used book shop, we passed through the general waiting room with its open fire. Dogs are welcome.

In the next room, the enormous mural depicting famous authors beckoned us.

An electric train rattled overhead.
 Only then did we really look around. Everywhere were books, nicely categorized. 

 At its restaurant I passed up the day's special of ox cheek soup for  a coronation chicken sandwich. I wish we could get curried chicken sandwiches here in the States. It was delicious.
Three private waiting rooms originally reserved for the posh set add more seating for the restaurant.
Water bowls await visiting dogs at the old drinking fountain.
Jay and I browsed after lunch. That's half of my sandwich on my lap.

It was this bookshop's owners who discovered a World War II poster in the bottom of a box of used books and made it famous again. There it is framed on the wall behind the front desk.

Jay bought a book and then we passed out through the general waiting room.

Such a cozy and welcoming place.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland, England, the largest inhabited castle in Britain after Windsor
 It isn't difficult to envision a 14th century cohort of knights and archers clattering through the gate of Alnwick Castle after the August 1388 Battle of Otterburn, to inform Henry, earl of Northumberland, that his eldest son and the army's commander, Harry "Hotspur" Percy, and another son, Sir Ralph Percy, had been captured by the Scots in a rash moonlight battle in which the banners of friend and foe were indistinguishable. Hotspur's redeeming grace was that he'd stood over his wounded brother to fend off the Scots. They eventually were ransomed. 
Get your tickets here

The present-day duke of Northumberland, a descendant of the Percys, owns a vast amount of land and is a savvy businessman. Because the castle played a part in the Harry Potter movies, the castle staff use not only a medieval theme, but the Potter theme, to attract families with children. 

Lessons in swordsmanship and archery are offered within the bailey, as well as broom-flying lessons.

Small denizens of Hogworts.

 But we had come in search of the medieval Alnwick Castle and there was plenty to see.

The Percy lion.

Main castle within the walls where the duke lives, some rooms open to the public, but no photos allowed.
There are two museums.One contains an assortment of historic items.
If you wondered how a fire arrow was assembled, here's a description.

Everyone owned a comb, some more elaborate than others, and they really did remove grease and lice.

At the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Museum Sammy caught my eye.

I guess they felt so badly in accidentally killing Sammy, they had him taxidermied - there he is in their museum.

A beautiful cold-painted bronze statue of Hotspur.
On Hotspur's cote de arms (the cloth jupen over his armor) are the Percy coat of arms, which makes for an interesting story from my perspective because I'm researching the life of Maud de Lucy, the second wife of  Henry, first earl of Northumberland, Hotspur's father. 
Wouldn't want to be in Hotspur's way when he fought.

After Maud de Lucy's brother, Anthony baron de Lucy, was killed in the Prussian crusade against the pagan Lithuanians in 1368 and her young niece succumbed in 1369, Maud became heiress to the de Lucy barony of Cumberland. When her much-older husband Gilbert, earl of Angus, died in 1381, she married the widowed Henry Percy, first earl of Northumberland. She had no surviving children, but her distinguished Lucy name was so important to her, she conditioned her marriage on the Percy men and their descendants quartering their heraldic lion with her silver fish (lucie was Norman-French for perch, a play on words, you see).  She died in 1398, but Hotspur was wearing this quartered coat of arms when he met his death at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 (he and his father were attempting to overthrow Henry IV), as was his father Henry when he was killed in battle against the crown at Bramham Moore, Yorkshire, in 1408. 
Another Percy lion

 The next day we walked past the castle, crossed the Aln River over Lion Bridge, and strolled along the river through what had been the deer park in medieval times. It was a lovely day.

View of Alnwick Castle from the deer park

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

In Search of Medieval Northumberland: Alnwick

Statue of Harry "Hotspur" Percy (1364-1403), killed at Battle of Shewsbury
This past spring we visited Northumberland and Cumbria, concentrating on its Roman antiquities, including our three-mile walk of Hadrian's Wall HERE. In the autumn we went in search of medieval Northumberland.

Northumberland's north border runs along Scotland's southeast border, their singular history during the Middle Ages one of mutual warfare. Fortified castles were built throughout Northumberland and Cumbria as barriers against Scottish invasion, or from which to stage invasion into Scotland, their nobles appointed Border wardens
Alnwick's Bond Gate - red lights alternate one-way traffic.
We stayed in a Victorian-era house in the town of Alnwick (pronounced A-nik) within walking distance of Alnwick Castle, the Percy stronghold from 1309 onward, where their descendant, the present duke of Northumberland, resides.
Alnwick's weekly market began in medieval times.
Jay deciding on a cheese
The Velveteen Rabbit sold rabbit pies.
Dressed warmly, the game pie seller had been at her stall since early morning.

Jay told the seller he'd buy a rabbit pie if she'd sing, "Run Rabbit, Run," and she obliged. If you're unfamiliar with this World War II British song, listen HERE
Jay's lunch of rabbit pie, fresh bread, raspberries, and smoked Stilton cheese. I had duck pie.

After lunch we walked across town to the medieval St. Michael's church.
Church trustee preparing to lock up St. Michael's
Effigy, possibly of Isabella de Vesci, lady of Alnwick Castle prior to the Percy's purchase in 1309.

A dog at her feet, symbol of faithfulness.

Lesson: We and our headstones will be erased from history.
I'll recount our next adventure, our visit to the magnificent Alnwick Castle, in my next blog.

Alnwick Castle

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Medieval York, England, and Its Minster

York Minster from the bedroom window of our rental flat
I'd wanted to visit the medieval city of York in England for some time and so we went in October. 
 We walked into the city through Monk's Gate and mounted the city wall.
 Still used as a shortcut and for exercise. Note the crenelation to the right. Towns and castles had to have the king's permission to crenelate. 
Me - and Constantine the Great, proclaimed emperor in York in 306 A.D.

York was originally a Roman city, home of the 4th Legion, and then a Viking stronghold and trade center, but I came to see the medieval aspects of the magnificent York Minster, which we visited on three consecutive days, there is so much to see.
Stone gargoyle high up, photo taken with a telephoto lens

Now connected to York Minster, the large and ornate Chapter House stood separate during medieval times. It was a feat of engineeering, having no central columns, its vaulted ceiling supported by timbers in the roof. It was used by King Edward I for his parliament in 1297. What appears in the photo as dripping tags of lace are carved stone decorations over-hung by carved stone heads. They are many and high up, difficult to photograph, but oh! so fascinating!

The famous three-faced lady
A devil dragging a corpse down to Hell
There remains some early medieval glass in the minster's windows. This depiction of monkeys has to be searched for, it is so high above your head.
There are a number of "Green Man" carvings of faces emerging from folage. This one is a home for birds, their bills thrust up his nostrils.

My favorite windows were these, the grisaille glass appearing silver gray at a distance, yet powdered with brilliant colors.

This original Roman column was discovered beneath York Minster's basement vault during repairs and excavation a few decades ago. Left where it had fallen, the minster was built on top of Roman ruins. 

A nearby exhibit of raptors.

Jay and I were always ready for a tea break, in this case a hot chocolate break.  
Who says the Church of England has no sense of humor - available in York Minster's gift shop.