I don’t suppose this blog about our visit to Kent’s most historical city will rank alongside Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but hopefully it will show that there is a bit more to Canterbury than just its cathedral.
Admittedly, we didn’t have time to see everything that the city has to offer, but enough to show us why people, other than pilgrims, should make a journey here.
I think it’s fair to say that most people will come here to see the Cathedral, and maybe St. Augustine’s Abbey, but there was a town here before St. Augustine arrived.
The Roman town of Durovernum (“the stronghold amidst alders”) included a protective wall which was probably built around 270 – 280 A.D. This wall continued to be used, with improvements, right through the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods into the Middle Ages, and still surrounds around half of the old city today. Inside this wall is the most interesting part of the city and the focus of this article.
At the opposite end of the Royal Mile to the castle is Holyrood Palace – the British monarch’s official Scottish residence.
Sitting under the extinct volcano of Arthur’s Seat, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has been a Royal residence since 1503 when King James IV decided to convert the Royal Lodgings of Holyrood Abbey into a home fit for his new bride, Margaret Tudor.
The original Augustinian Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I, supposedly after a hunting trip. Legend has it that he was thrown from his horse after being startled by a deer and was saved thanks to the appearance of a Holy Cross (or rood) that beamed down from the skies above. Whether you believe this miracle or not is up to you, but at least that’s one of the theories as to how Holyrood got its name.
Raids by the English during the mid-16th century destroyed many of the Abbey buildings and by the end of the Reformation all that was left of any consequence was the nave, which required some serious restoration for the Scottish coronation of King Charles I in 1633. The Chapel Royal, as it became known, was used for Catholic worship during the reign of James VII (and II of England), but by the 18th century, for various reasons, had suffered so much damage that it fell into terminal decline.
The remains of the nave can still be seen today as part of the tour of the palace.
Just as it’s impossible to see the whole of Kew Gardens in one visit, the same thing applies to writing about it, and so I’ve decided to begin with an overview of how the gardens evolved and the main areas of interest.
To give you an indication of the magnitude of the place, it boasts that it has the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological (fungi) collections in the world” with more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, an Herbarium with over 7 million specimens, a library with 750,000 books, and more than 175,000 prints and drawings. To that you can add five Grade I listed buildings, and (including its sister botanical garden at Wakehurst in West Sussex) currently employs around 800 staff. It even has its own police force. No wonder it’s on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.
The Bankside area of Southwark roughly equates with the riverside between Blackfriars Bridge and London Bridge.
The distance between the two bridges is about a mile and there are not only plenty of things to see, but also a fair number of pubs to hold you up along the way, and if you stop at all of them you’ll need holding up yourself.
Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is the Founders Arms, which although modern is in a great location overlooking the river, but as this isn’t a pub crawl I’ll assume that you’ll want to move straight on to the first real point of interest which is the Tate Modern.
Housed inside the former Bankside Power Station, this gallery of modern art won’t appeal to everyone, and depending on your taste in art you can either spend the best part of a day in here or hardly any time at all. Either way, you should go in and take a look, not just because it’s free, but you can always take the lift up to the viewing level of the Blavatnik Building for great views over the City of London and beyond.
Outside the river entrance to the Tate Modern is the Millennium Bridge. No prizes for guessing where it got its name from, but you may be tempted across it because on the other side of the river is St Paul’s Cathedral, but as tempting as it may be, it’s best left for another time.
I read somewhere that London has somewhere in the region of 1,500 permanent art galleries, and I wouldn’t have a clue as to whether that’s a true number or not, but however many it is, it’s definitely a large number.
Some are big and some are small, some are good, and some no doubt are not so good, but art is very often a matter of personal choice. The problem for visitors who don’t know their Constable from their Hockney is where to go to see the best examples of what London has to offer.
One of the most well known, and deservedly so in my opinion, is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, and next door just around the corner in St. Martin’s Place is the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
Whereas the National Gallery’s name is a bit confusing because it includes works of art from all over Europe, the National Portrait Gallery’s collection is of “the most eminent persons in British History”.
That statement seems to sum up the NPG for me. The paintings are more about the subjects rather than the artists. There are some great subjects, but that doesn’t necessarily make them great works of art. Now, I have to admit that I can’t even paint an outside wall, and the only thing I’ve ever been able to draw is a pint, so what do I know really?
Looking at works of art is very subjective, and so it’s probably a good idea to have an understanding on what type of art is on display at the National Gallery and where you can find what you’re looking for.
Overlooking Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery has over 2,300 paintings that belong to UK citizens and consequently is free to go in. You can either walk up the steps and enter through the portico, or better still take the Getty entrance on the right, where, not only is there a lift for people who need it, but also other facilities such as cloakroom, toilets, coffee bar, café, restaurant, shop, and information point.
The lift will whisk you up to Level 2 where practically all the paintings are located. The layout is arranged in a total of four wings – the Sainsbury Wing (13th-15th century), the West Wing (16th century), the North Wing (17th century) and the East Wing (18th to early 20th century). The Sainsbury Wing is a modern extension added in 1991. In some ways this makes it slightly more confusing because although it houses the earliest paintings, the rooms are numbered the highest (from 51 to 66). Other than that all the other wings run in chronological order.
Given that the name is The National Gallery, you might think that it just houses British works of art, but in actual fact it exhibits the country’s collection of Western European paintings including Renaissance, Baroque and Impressionism. (For the National Gallery of British Art you need to go to Tate Britain on Millbank).
Mention the name Stokes Croft to anybody in Bristol, and you’ll get an immediate reaction. Some see it as a cultural hub, but others are less enthusiastic, seeing it as a graffiti-ridden area full of drugs, crime and homelessness.
The Stokes Croft world is a very different one to mine – but it’s changing, and I think now is as good a time as any to find out more about the area known locally as The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft.
Stokes Croft, for those who don’t know it, is a relatively short stretch of road that forms part of the A38 trunk road from Gloucester as it comes into Bristol city centre, but to most Bristolians it also includes a small number of streets on either side of it.
Sandwiched between the relatively affluent Kingsdown and the African-Caribbean community of St Pauls, the area does not have an official boundary, but the map below shows what’s included within the ‘Cultural Boundary’ as featured on the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft (PRSC) website.
The problem with anywhere that sits on a boundary line is that it has no official identity of its own.
People often mention how clear the light is in West Cornwall, and I would be the first to agree that there’s a clarity here that isn’t found everywhere.
This attracted artists from far and wide, and the St. Ives colony became so well known that it became a magnet for even more artists.
I would argue though that artists came here not just for the quality of light, but also for the quality of life as well, and one of those artists was Barbara Hepworth, a sculptor, who was born in Wakefield in 1903.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to come knocking on your door with the latest edition of the Watchtower: This article is about the clarity of light that has brought artists to West Cornwall for years.
I’m no artist, and before you start to snigger, I mean I can’t paint or draw, which is why I’ve got the utmost admiration for those that can.
I do believe that the quality of the light in West Cornwall is special, but I also believe that artists have beat a path to St. Ives for the quality of life as well.
I mean, let’s be honest, would you prefer to be working in an office or on the factory floor all day, to dabbling with a paint brush on the harbourside in between visits to the Sloop? I thought not.
I don’t think they make a vast fortune mind you, but then again, I don’t think they worry about the money side of it too much either. My philosophy about life is somewhat similar – but unfortunately, I’m no good at painting the bathroom door let alone a nice atmospheric seascape.
Painting en plein air became fashionable in Cornwall back in the 1880s with Falmouth, Newlyn and St. Ives setting up their own individual artist colonies.
Some of the more renowned artists, such as Ben Nicholson were encouraged by Alfred Wallis, a retired seaman who didn’t start painting until he was in his seventies. A man of very little personal wealth he used all sorts of bits and pieces to paint on. Although he died a pauper in 1942 his legend lives on and his old home still stands in Back Road West which has a plaque on the wall outside.
The St. Ives School of Painting opened up in 1938 just a few doors away in the Porthmeor Studios and is still going strong today.
Torre Abbey is undoubtedly the single most important medieval building in Torbay, and although its appearance has changed over the years, it should be on every visitor’s list of things to see.
Founded in 1196 by Canons of the Premonstratensian (!) order they became wealthy landlords adding the ‘quay’ to Torre.
They carried on their business for over 300 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.
During the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth I, one of the Spanish Armada’s galleons, the Nuestra Senora del Rosario, was captured by Sir Francis Drake and its crew of 397 were imprisoned in the abbey barn – known ever since as the Spanish Barn.
The remains and ruins of the medieval abbey are still here to be seen, but successive owners started to change the abbey into a comfortable home, and in 1662 it fell into the hands of the Cary family.
The Cary family are one of Torquay’s most notable families with a long history and they stayed here right up until 1930 when they sold it to the Borough of Torquay for £40,000.
There’s a danger of boring people to death when describing museums, so forgive me if I don’t include everything that this museum has to offer.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) was built in the Gothic style in the 1860s. It’s a handsome building, and with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a multi-million pound re-development took place between 1999 and 2011.
The new-look museum was such a success that the Art Fund named it Museum of the Year in 2012.
It might have cost millions to bring up to date but it’s still free to go in, and so there’s no real reason not to pay it a visit. There are two entrances but the main one is in Queen St at the front of the building.
Briefly, the layout of the museum is spread over two levels, with the Ground Floor concentrating on local interest, whilst the upper First Floor includes items from other cultures and specimens from the natural world. There is more to it than that of course, but that’s the gist of it.