Saturday, March 7, 2009

The little Green Man is not always Absinthe!

Hi all. Left Cheltenham this morning about 9:30 am. Beautiful day, cool and crisp but the sun was shining brightly and our spirits were also high. We headed west to Gloucester and the Cathedral there. When we were researching this visit, we noticed that there was very limited parking in the immediate vicinity but my Parking Angel is still sitting on my shoulder and smiling favourably. We got a space around the back of the Cathedral (a short 280 m) and walked via the Sacre to the rear of the church. Even from this view it is beautiful set in manicured lawns.

There is so much history tied up with this building. As we arrived and walked into the Nave, depositing our £3 donation so we could take photos, a very friendly guide wearing a cathedral sash welcomed us and offered to take us on a tour. When we accepted, she rounded up a few other people standing around and we set off. Turns out that there has been a Christian church of worship on this site since 679 AD, and this was pre-dated by a roman temple. And ladies, you know when you move into a new home that you like to put your stamp on the building? Well it turns out that the monks and abbots were just the same! So this Cathedral contains a number of different architectural and decorative styles that gives it a quirky character if you only take the time to look closely.

Joan, our guide, begins with a bit of a history lesson before we set off to follow her through time. The Normans captured Gloucester and undertook a rebuilding of the Cathedral. It was then added to by the later Kings and even the Abbots in charge of the Cathedral. She explains how the cathedral was saved during the Reformation when Henry VIII was razing churches to the ground. The coronation of the 14 year old Edward III took place in the Cathedral following the death of his father as London was under seige from the Normans. This was the only coronation outside of London since the Magna Carta was signed in 1066. The architectural differences remain there to today and are easily recognised once you know what to look for. There are many decorative roof and there are a total of 40 green men hidden in the masons' carvings throughout the Cathedral as well as countless roof bosses and other little medieval people.

We visited the Crypt and saw how the first cathedral would have been a dark and dim building as this is preserved in the way that the first cathedral was constructed. We saw the beautiful high altar behind a limestone screen where the abbots and monks would have held their daily services. The townsfolk did not have access to this area and could only hear and smell (the incense and candles - what did you think?) the monks. We then moved into the various chapels before we went into the operational areas of the cathedral and marvelled at the beautiful fan vaulting in the cloister, the garth (garden) enclosed by the cloister and the wash trough where they washed their hands before eating. Also, quite a bit of the Cathedral was used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies.

It was truly a memorable visit and Joan's commentary brought so much of it to life for us - well done Joan!

A walk back to the car lets us get a feel for the Kings School based here and the impact that is has on the local community. Lots of history and aged gentry! A quick stop at Sainsbury's to do some shopping (where we found milk called The Original Milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows and complete with a real cream plug!). And then it was back into the car and a heading north east for Stratford-Upon-Avon. I know this sounds like a convoluted journey - but the first leg was 25 minutes and this one just over an hour! Everything is just sooo close!!!

It was busy in Stratford (as it is signposted locally) wth Saturday shoppers and tourists alike. Again, parking was a breeze and we found a nice little eatery (Mistress Quickly's Traditional English Eatery) for some lunch. Shepherds Pie for Michael and Steak and Ale Pie for me - served with chips, carrots, broccoli and zucchini. We don't have much time here today as we want to get to our accommodation in North Wales in daylight. So a quick walk through the main old town area and off we set again once we had a few photos including one of 'succulent' rabbits sittings amidst the flower gardens in the main roundabout - egads!

The River Avon is as pretty as and there were a number of canal boats tied up just near the town lock on the river - no pics, there was too much traffic and we were still driving.

So following our trusty Google Earth Directions we steer almost due north before turning west into Wales. It is so hard to describe how beautiful this country is. Even with heavy storm clouds rolling in (the forecast is for rain, sleet, possible hail and snow in the high lands), the view is a picture. The greens are emerald and rich and the earth smells of that rich humus that comes from plenty of composting organic materials and animals to feed it!

Once we are over the border, the traffic slows to a more sedate 50 mph. No one is in a hurry to go anywhere in a country that is only 222 miles from one extremity to the other! We follow the signs are are soon at our destination town of Caerwys (gosh, don't ask me to pronounce it - I have no idea yet, will ask some locals tomorrow.) The wind is blowing a gale and the temperature heading south quickly as we move into our home for the week. And what a home! I'll tell you more about it tomorrow and post some photos.

As we are battening down the hatches here and trying to master the heating system, back home things are a whole lot more dramatic. There is a Category 5 cyclone (Cyclone Hamish - what sort of a woos name is that for a cyclone?!) bearing down the Queensland Coast. Although many on Long Island in the Whitsundays have been evacuated to the mainland, James is still on the Island to cook for the remaining (foolish) guests. And the tracking shows that it could well reach the area around Maryborough, so Gen is a little anxious. Thankfully we have wonderful friends and neighbours who will make sure the house and our precious Gen are OK.

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