Friday 4th November 2005
Friday – a cloudless but chilly day with a brisk breeze, wind or minor gale – marked the start of my Norfolk expedition, although my first stop was still in Cambridgeshire at Ely Cathedral, which I had visited before but which, for whatever reason, didn’t grab me.
Aren’t I glad I went back? Whilst less aesthetically pleasing from the outside than many others, I had forgotten how beautiful the interior is. The stained glass windows and the stonework in the two Chantry Chapels alone will be enough to bring me back yet again sometime in the future. What was it I said about my favourites? Ely’s up there with the best of them.
Then off to Framlingham Castle – yet another ruin! Framlingham’s claim to fame has more to do with the fact that Mary Tudor rallied her supporters there in 1553 than its architectural merit, though for those of you who really need to know, it is said to be a good early example of a curtain wall and mural towers. With an outside temperature of around 10° and a wind-chill factor only an Eskimo would appreciate, it’s perhaps not surprising that I was the only one to climb up to the top of the wall, and stand at the appropriate (and exposed) vantage points on the walk along the wall to listen to the audio-guide. In fact, until I left at about 1:00 pm, I had been the only visitor! The sacrifices one makes!
An uneventful drive to Norwich, where – to my surprise – I found the hotel easily enough. Despite what I thought at the time were clear instructions, finding my room was more difficult, and I only made it after the third attempt. The hotel comprises two buildings, each with three floors, and the reason I couldn’t find room 301 was that it was on the third floor of the adjoining building and only accessible by returning to the ground floor and through a shared lounge area. The room itself, once discovered, was fine. Finding the Dining Room and my way back to the room after dinner was a new challenge!
Saturday 5th November 2005
First stop on Saturday morning, Norwich Cathedral – and yet another to add to my list. What appealed most to me about Norwich is its soaring height and vaulted ceiling and, of the furnishings, the painted altarpiece “The Despenser Reredos”, a 14th-century medieval panel in St Luke’s Chapel.
As if from one sublime to another with some gor blimey in between, I then made my way across the city via a thronged but blissfully car-free shopping precinct and market to Norwich Castle.
The Castle houses, amongst other things, the Museum and Art Gallery – the latter being where I wanted to be to view the English watercolourists’ collection Roger and Denise had recommended.
My probably naïve perception of watercolours being but faint and inferior representations of the real and vibrant world depicted in oil was “all shook up” here. I couldn’t believe that watercolours could be so vibrant – excuse the repetition – but some of them really were.
I particularly liked the freedom of what I understand was an uncharacteristic Miles Cotman in his “Park Scene”, and a couple of jewel-like miniatures by Thomas Lound. I’d buy them both tomorrow if they were available and I could afford them! I found Norwich a very comfortable city to be in and have added it to my list of places I’d like to revisit.
Given the blue sky and the cool but relatively windless day I thought there might be a photo opportunity or two on the north coast of Norfolk on my way to “The White Horse” at Brancaster Staithe – where I’m booked for the night, mainly for the highly recommended dinner and only secondarily for the bed! As I might have expected, by the time I got there – to the coast at Cromer – the overcast had rolled in and, although I got a couple of snaps (does that word mean anything to anyone any more?) – they were decidedly grey, bleak and somewhat depressing; as were those of a couple of windmills I passed.
I had mistakenly thought that I’d get more North Sea views from the coastal road than I did, but the pleasant and unspoilt villages dotted along the road, in part, made for that.
The “White Horse” at Brancaster Staithe was everything I’d hoped for. A really nice – albeit motel-type room – but appropriately furnished having regard to its closeness to the wetlands and sea, and a dinner menu to induce instant salivation.
For those of you who want to know, I indulged in a New England chowder – and, yes, that was how it was listed on the menu – which was, if I’m using the expression correctly, “to die for” and, surprise, surprise, Brancaster mussels in white wine sauce. As a result, despite my partiality for them, I may never have “Café Rouge” mussels ever again without invidious comparison!
Sunday 6th November 2005
Sunday dawned cold, drear and blustery, but with only a hint of the rain that was to follow. Fortified with a full English breakfast, I meandered a little further along the coast but as the weather took a turn for the worse, the narrow roads soon lost their attraction. So I reverted to my original plan which was to see one, at least, of my scheduled “ruins” for the day – “Castle Acre Priory”, about 45 minutes drive south of Brancaster Staithe.
On arrival there, I was greeted like a long lost friend, though I suspect this may have had something to do with the fact that I was the first visitor for the day. In fact, by the time I left about an hour later, I was the only one up to that time! The site is a very exposed one with little or no shelter and despite being suitably rugged-up, the conditions were such as to take the shine off even the best of castles, ruined or otherwise. Again the audio-guide was excellent, but in the interests of self-preservation, I restricted myself to those areas of the sequenced tour which were less exposed to the elements. I’m still glad I sallied forth, so to speak!
In the hope that the weather just might improve, I headed across country towards “Castle Rising” – again about 45 minutes away – but after 30 minutes, the weather had worsened to the point that it would have been pointless continuing. So I reversed my tracks and tucked myself into a lay-by until the worst was over. At least I had Roger’s cassettes of Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony and Dvorak’s “American” quartet to soothe me while I waited out the worst of it.
North to Lincoln – you guessed it, to revisit a “cathedral”!
Monday 7th November 2005
For once, I found parking within easy walking distance of where I was heading, namely, Lincoln Cathedral, probably because I was there well before 10:00 am. And it was every bit as good as I had remembered it – including the vaulting, the “Services Chapel”, and the so-called “Lincoln Imp”. Unfortunately, the Chapter House was inaccessible because of restoration work being undertaken there.
I then headed west towards the Peak District where I was to spend the night but, because I was ahead of schedule was persuaded by an English Heritage sign to deviate a little to view “Bolsover Castle”. Bolsover Castle was a large Norman motte and bailey castle dating from the Conquest. In the early days of King Charles I, the keep was reconstructed as an elaborate fantasy castle, a palatial wing added along the western slope of the hill, and an elaborate riding academy on the ‘flat’ side facing the town of Bolsover.
The fantasy castle is very elaborately decorated – painted ceilings and marvellous marble fireplaces. One room that stood out was the famous Star Chamber, but there were a lot of rooms like this packed into this small keep, including the Pillar Chamber, Hall, and “Elysium” and “Heaven” chambers adjoining Sir William Cavendish’s bedchamber. All in all, a very different castle from any other I’ve visited thus far.
Tuesday 8th November 2005
On Tuesday morning I visited that popular – or perhaps more aptly put, well-advertised – “stately home”, Chatsworth”. Still privately owned, my “magic” cards didn’t gain me entrance, which meant paying separately for car-parking, entrance to the house and garden, and the audio guide. Apart from a painting by Rubens and one by Hals and, of course, the magnificent setting, Chatsworth didn’t grab me at all… …and I’m sure I would have felt that way even if the visit had been a “free” one!
The rain that had been threatening at Chatsworth decided that threats were not working and got serious as I left Chatsworth – and more and more serious as I approached Manchester. The result was that I was again faced with one of those nose-to-the-windscreen searches for signs to Didsbury whilst negotiating increasingly deep puddles. If nothing else, it proved the car doesn’t leak and is not averse to submarine exercises – well, perhaps aquaplaning! In any event, with some on-the-mobile help of a navigational variety, I did make it “home” finally, and had that well-needed rather than deserved drink!
Then it was into preparation for our “Roman Holiday”!