Of all the history and tales about Greyfriars, there’s probably one that captures the public imagination more than any other – that of Greyfriars Bobby.
During the 1850s, a man by the name of John Gray, walked the streets of Edinburgh as a night watchman for the local police, and with him, went his trusty Skye Terrier Bobby. They trudged the cobbled streets together but in 1858 John died and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.
The story goes that Bobby refused to leave his master’s graveside, no matter what the weather. Several times the gardener of the Kirkyard tried to move Bobby on, but he always returned, and in the end the gardener relented and made up a shelter next to his master’s grave.
Bobby became a bit of a celebrity and was well looked after, but he never left the graveside. For 14 years he kept vigil until he himself died in 1872 aged 16.
In 1981 an unconsecrated grave was made for Bobby near to where John Gray is buried. It has become a shrine for the thousands of visitors who leave flowers, toys and twigs to keep him company.
If you would like to know what he looked like there’s a nice little statue of him on top of a drinking fountain near to the Greyfriars Bobby pub – and if you want to really engross yourself in the story there’s a Walt Disney film based on a children’s book by Eleanor Atkinson.
Anyone who knows the story about Grace Darling will no doubt want to allow a bit of time after visiting Bamburgh Castle to come and see the Grace Darling Museum.
The location is easy to find as it’s at the top of the village directly opposite St. Aidan’s Church.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Grace Darling I’ll attempt to put into words what this remarkable young woman did to achieve the fame that she so richly deserved.
Grace was born in her grandfather’s cottage (a few doors up from the museum) on 24th November 1815, but after a few weeks was taken to Brownsman Island, one of the Outer Farne Islands, where her father was the lighthouse keeper.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but I absolutely adore islands. They come in all shapes and sizes, and they don’t necessarily have to include coconut palms swaying in a warm tropical breeze over a white sandy beach – which is probably just as well really because the Farne Islands are nothing like that.
There are no palm trees here; in fact, there aren’t any trees at all, and if it weren’t for the wardens who monitor the islands, there would be no humans either.
The only bodies you’ll find lying around in the sun (if it’s out) are Atlantic Seals, who are joined by thousands of sea birds who also call these islands home.
Lying just two miles off the Northumberland coast at its nearest point, the Farnes consist of fifteen islands when the tide’s in, and 28 when it’s not. Separated by the mile-wide Staple Sound, the small archipelago consists of two main groups – the Inner Farnes, and the Outer Farnes, with Crumstone lying east of the main group, and Megstone to the west.
On my first visit to Newcastle I was surprised to see old timber-framed buildings. For some reason I just wasn’t expecting to see any, but at Sandhill there is a group of impressive 17th century merchant’s houses including Bessie Surtees House.
Built in the 17th century, it was originally two houses, named after the merchants who lived in them – Millbank and Surtees. These five storey buildings are fine examples of Jacobean architecture, and even though they have gone through periods of neglect, today they are admirably cared for by Historic England.
To keep everything commercially viable most of the combined building is leased out for office space, but the impressive first floor is freely available for visitors to take a look at.
No sooner had William the Conqueror been crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, he was ordering castles to be built all over the country to defend his newly won territory – and Winchester, England’s de facto capital, was one of the first on his list.
Under these circumstances you would think, wouldn’t you, that Winchester would have been razed to the ground, but the truth was, that until the new King could set up his headquarters in London then Winchester still had an important part to play.
William’s Castle was built over the top of the Roman fort that was built to protect Venta Bulgarum, and for over a hundred years after the conquest England was ruled from Winchester Castle.
Henry II, the first Plantagenet king, built a stone keep to house the royal treasury and the Domesday Book, and Henry III, who was born at Winchester Castle and only 9 years old when he became king in 1216, added the Great Hall between 1222 and 1235.
What I like about Winchester Cathedral is not just its wonderful architecture, but also the human stories that have accompanied it throughout the centuries.
Architecturally, as soon as you set foot inside the West Door the magnificent perpendicular Nave stretches out in front of you right down to George Gilbert Scott’s ornate choir screen.
It didn’t always look like this though because the original Romanesque Norman church suffered badly from subsidence, and it took alterations from the 14th century onwards, firstly by Bishop Edington and then William of Wykeham, to produce what is my favourite style of church architecture.
If you can avoid the temptation to continue on down the Nave but walk down the North Aisle instead, you’ll soon come to the grave of Jane Austen, the author famous for writing such classics as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
It’s not surprising that many people want to see where Jane Austen’s final resting place is, but they would miss a gem if they went straight past the nearby 12th century black Tournai marble Font. It’s not just old, but unusual and interesting as well.
London’s Guildhall is the administrative and ceremonial centre for the City of London, and amongst other things, is where the Corporation and Liverymen elect and swear in the City of London’s new Lord Mayor.
Guildhall (and not The Guildhall by the way), comprises a number of buildings, but for the purposes of this review I shall just be talking about the Great Hall which can be regarded as the City of London’s town hall and is the third largest civic hall in England.
This Grade I listed building is the only medieval secular building in the Square Mile and is built over the top of the Roman Amphitheatre, the location of which is marked by a circle of block paving in Guildhall Yard, and the remains of which can be seen under Guildhall Art Gallery (see Londinium).
Guild derives from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘gild’ meaning payment, and a Gild Hall would have been where people had to pay their taxes, and there is evidence to suggest that there has been a tax office or Guildhall on this site since at least the 13th century.
We’re now at that time of year when everyone, it seems, is travelling around – everyone, that is, except me.
I’m not a great one for heading off into the summer traffic, but for anyone who has little choice, and prefers somewhere peaceful, perhaps St. Nectan’s Glen may just be the place for you.
Many people travel down to Cornwall for a summer break, and quite a few beat a path to Tintagel. It’s easy to see why; it has a magnificent coastline and a castle that lures people who have a fascination for King Arthur.
The town is a bit too touristy for my liking, but just a 5 minute drive out of town along the road to Boscastle is a car park where you can leave the car behind, and head up through St. Nectan’s Glen to somewhere that is so magical that it could easily be home to Merlin himself.
It never ceases to amaze me how saints of old had powers that would put David Blaine and Uri Geller to shame, and St Ia is yet another one.
St. Ia was a 5th century Irish princess who, after being converted to Christianity, decided that it was her duty to join a missionary party that was planning to cross the Celtic Sea in order to convert the good people of Cerniw.
The story goes that the boat left without her, but undeterred, she set about making her own arrangements – so what did she do? she sailed over on a leaf of course! Now, I have to admit I am partaking in a glass of fruit cider while I’m writing this, but I can assure you that the story is true, it must be, I’ve read the same story from several different sources just to confirm that I haven’t been hallucinating.
Call me an old cynic if you like, but I don’t believe a word of it. Having said that, it seems pretty likely that the Irish princess did make it across to the shores of Cornwall one way or another, and it also seems likely that she landed at Pendinas, or ‘The Island’ as it’s called today.