Sunday, June 08, 2014

Churches and Castles

Thank you for the kind comment, Liz M!  I'm always amazed when people like the photos on my blog because, pre-digital camera, I was the person who could take a whole roll of film and not get one decent image.  For a longish while I just didn't bother.   Now, one can choose which images to use and crop out any distracting elements.

So, it was not all walking in the fells in Cumbria.  We took some rest days when rain was forecast, and appreciated the contrast.   

May was a great time to visit Muncaster Castle, which has a world-class collection of rhododendrons.  My family were tenants of the Muncaster estate when I was a teenager, so the whole area is very familiar to me.  My much younger sister remembers attending the Christmas party for the tenants' children, held every year at the castle.  Sounds very Downton Abbey, doesn't it?

We walked around the grounds and took a tour of the interior which is packed with interesting stories - an ancestor last seen grappling with a bear in India; an ancestor who took up with a young woman from Essex that he had met in a park and had two children by her - it's fascinating.

Housed in the grounds is an aviary of owls from around the world.  These have been rescued in different ways for conservation purposes. We enjoyed the exhibition of owls flying and being held.

However, we were most glad to have decided to stay for the herons.  I have always thought of herons as very special birds.  They seem so patient and dignified in their lonely vigils on the riverbank.  To see one fly over, its great wings unhurried and its body like the fuselage of an early aircraft, is always a memorable sight.  We have rarely seen more than one at a time, but we noticed that several had landed in a tree above the castle terrace.

Soon there were about fifteen herons perched and waiting.  At four o'clock a keeper from the aviary appeared with a bucket.  She reminded us that these were wild birds, disclaiming responsibility for their behaviour.  This was just as well.  Once she had tipped out the food, several alpha birds took up position, swallowing as many of the dead day-old chicks as they could and warding off all challengers.  Soon their crops were distended and very undignified squabbling broke out. It was an amazing spectacle.

Apparently they had had a pair reared in the aviary and had tried to move them out to the natural heronry on the estuary by feeding them away from their cages.  However, this had attracted in the wild birds who had a keen sense of timing.

A quieter time was had at Irton Church.  There is no village called Irton; it is the name of a parish of scattered farms and what were once country estates.  Almost fifty years ago my eldest cousin married there.  My elder sister and I were bridesmaids.  Some years later, that sister too held her wedding there.  So I have definitely been there twice before, although the building made little impression on me then.   However, the building and the views from the gate are truly impressive.   In the churchyard stands this amazing ninth century cross, with its celtic knotwork.

Inside the church, there are windows by Morris and Co, designed by Burne Jones. 

Cumbrian chuches usually tend towards the plain and simple, but here there is evidence of money.  At the end of the nineteenth century some of those with interests in the industry of West Cumbria - the ship-building and the coal and iron ore mines - obviously bought country houses here and had wealth to spare to support the church.

A different story attaches to this last church visited.  After Boot, we moved north to our own cottage.  From here we visited Abbey Town and the church of Holm Cultram.  This is the remains of a twelfth century abbey which once wielded enormous influence.  We were fascinated to see it open again, because in 2008 a group of youths set it on fire.  In fact, they broke in looking for cash and stole five pounds, which they spent on drink.  Returning to the abbey, they set alight some clothing in the vestry and soon the whole building was ablaze.  Now, after several million has been spent, the wooden roof has been restored and a white limestone floor installed.  The ladies we spoke to were just grateful to be able to have their services there again, even though much remains to be completed.



elginknitter said...

Your photos are wonderful and I love reading about your travels! Your blog brings back fond memories of the year we spent in the UK, and reminds me that there were many many places that we did not get to see. Hopefully we will be able to visit again in the near future. - Ruth in Ontario

kristieinbc said...

I used to take the same kind of pictures as you. The worst thing about the rolls of film without a single good photo was how much they cost to get developed. Your photography skills are terrific now! I think blogging helps us get a better eye for what makes a good picture.

You live in a place with so much history. I especially love the stone marker with the Celtic knot work. It reminds me of cabled knitting.