Sunday, 19 June 2011

Flamborough Head

Skirting round Bridlington we threaded our way through country lanes to the 8 mile, chalkland promenantry of Flamborough Head. Defended by a dyke in prehistoric times and the site of a Franco-American invasion attempt in the American Revolutionary Wars, the head sticks out into the North Sea and is riddled with chalk caves. The area is now an internationally renowned location for the breeding of Northern Gannets and Atlantic Puffins and hosts many surprise visitors in spring and autumn migrations.
It has two lighthouses - the original chalk-brick tower that rose from the ground in 1674 and is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England. It's more modern counterpart sits above the cliffs and is operated by Trinity House who run seasonal tours - its call sign is four flashes every 15 seconds.
Sitting on the grassy banks below we watched a succession of birds fly past the cliff and out to sea, their journeys purposeful and direct. Others floated in groups on the deep blue-green sea, the swell lifting and descending, driven by wind and tide. Herring gulls nurtured eggs and young in untidy nests on crevases close by to us as the waves of guillemots and razorbills and passing squadrons of gannets filled the sky. Fresh air filled our lungs as the sun warmed our backs and hearts. Bempton Cliffs tomorrow and the promise of further close up views of the birds and their vertigo inducing nest sites.

Herring Gull


gannets in the distance

A morning at Lincoln Castle

Opening the curtains to the majesty of the Cathedral's West face was a wonderful sight, the sun illuminating the well broken cloud, the haphazard angles of ancient roof and ruddy brick chimney leading the eye across to the dramatic frontage. Pigeons and crows circled the spires and towers, free from the previous days rain.
After a hearty breakfast we walked over to explore Lincoln Castle with its high ramparts and expansive views in all directions across Lincolnshire and the Trent valley. William the Conqueror began building the castle in 1068 on the site of previous Roman and Saxon occupation and eventually used it to hold hostages. For the next 900 years the Castle has continued to be used as a court and prison and today still is the home of the county court, which was in session during our visit.
We rose to the ramparts and looked out across the Lincolnshire plains through clear, fresh air and sky. 
A mallard duck also enjoyed the high position taking up station on a cranion on the north wall, looking inland across streets and houses towards the Cotham power station that could just be seen on the horizon. A windmill could also be seen closer to town, contrasting modern and ancient methods of energy generation that at different times have supported the local population.
the rear of the court house, built in 1822

Looking inward, the red brick Georgian prison building dominated the west side of the site, home now to an exhibition on the prison's history as well as rare copies of the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest. Built in 1787 the prison housed debtors and felons as well as the Governor's family.
Georgian Prison Building
Magna Carta
It's rooms and corridors now tell the story of the foundation of justice in Medieval England and how the Magna Carta came into being on the banks of The Thames at Runnymede in 1215. King John reneged on the commitments he signed up to pretty quickly after its signature but it was re-issued, along with the Charter of the Forest a few years later and formed the basis of the rights of the people in democratic countries to this day.
In contrast to the establishment of the rights of man, the Victorian Prison to the rear contained the only remaining example of a 'separate system' chapel where prisoners were isolated in coffin like pews, unable to see each other before, during or after the service.
Our morning perambulation completed, we jumped in the car and headed north in gorgeous sunshine. We crossed the Humber Bridge and pressed on to our next destination - Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast and a date with the seabirds that nest there.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Lincoln - part 1

An opportunity to spend a few days away presented itself this Whitsun week so a trip was planned that took us north on the eastern side of the country, visiting first Lincoln, then on to Scarborough before returning south to Rutland Water. Locations were chosen for historical and ornithological reasons, coming together in an itinerary that was both relaxing and stimulating.

We had been recommended to stay at The White Hart Hotel in the centre of Lincoln, the charm and aspect of which set the trip off to a great start. Spring rain made for a damp afternoon on our arrival, but being such a rarity for a number of weeks, provided a pleasure in itself, the flagstones on Steep Hill glistening in the watery light. We descended the winding, ancient street in search of the renowned Cheese Shop (closed) and a spot of afternoon tea. Refreshed, we retraced our steps, the ascent broken in stages by pauses at the sweet emporium  and a second-hand bookshop - all must and eccentricity. Ducking into the cathedral to avoid the rain we absorbed the history of this magnificent building with its vaulted ceilings, intricate stone work and illuminated windows, capturing a taste of the permanence and majesty that its architects sought in it's construction the best part of a millennium ago.
The first cathedral was completed in 1092 under Remigus, set across from the imposing castle in a demonstration of state and church power as the Normans sought to demonstrate control over the country on this strategic hill-top.
You enter the cathedral through Exchequergate and then the West Front, the Romanesque arches remaining from the original building. Passing into the Knave the eye is immediately drawn up into the high airy space. The Early English Gothic pointed arches and numerous lancet windows streaming light into the space made for an impressive sight and juxtaposed with the norm of mediaeval life would have been awe-inspiring to visitors.

At the head of the Knave stands the early 14th Century choir screen which divides the public from the clergy, North and South transcepts stretching left and right. Passing through the screen you are entering the religious inner sanctum and the decorative panelling in the choir stalls extends to enclose the high alter with the immense stained glass of the East front behind it.
A door to the north leads to the cloister and chapter-house where the fine gothic architecture continues, enclosing the space and creating a peaceful and reverent atmosphere.

Later in the evening we walked the outside in the late twilight, marveling again at the complexity of the cathedral's construction. We watched bats circle the high spires in search of insects and wandered the quiet, ancient streets, imagining the generations that had passed before.