Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Thursday 7 May 2015

Newcastle Cathedral

Do you know, in all the years we’ve lived up here, we hadn’t ever been into Newcastle Cathedral until last bank holiday Monday.  It seems silly, as it is so easily reached from the town centre, but for some reason I had managed to miss it all these years.  I’m quite sorry that it took us all of ten years to actually make a pilgrimage inside, as it is a lovely if externally-unimposing building.

Like most things in Newcastle, the Cathedral is heavily tied to the region’s industrial past.  Indeed, most of the cathedral’s footprint was extended from its humble parish church status to the cathedral form you see today in the C18th and C19th, when the growing upper classes required church authority be centred in Newcastle rather than Durham.

Thus, most of the cathedral is very typical Victorian; with heavily ornamented carved screens and reredos and lots of stained glass.  Unfortunately, in the process of adding on and ‘improving’, the Victorians didn’t do much in the way of conservation of the church’s historic ornamentation, so a lot of character was lost in the process.  The Victorians have a lot to answer for – as does Oliver Cromwell (but that’s for a whole other time!)  Thankfully, the Victorians did like their churches and cathedrals heated, and did a stellar job of installing radiators to keep the place warm in winter!

Whilst not as light as Wells and definitely not on the same scale as the great Gothic cathedrals of  Lincoln or Peterborough, Newcastle has a certain charm about it.  Indeed, it is barely larger than a large parish church, even with the Victorian add-ons, but I think that is something that runs in its favour as it feels far less imposing than visiting Lincoln cathedral.

The stained glass is almost entirely Victorian, with the exception of one tiny circular piece of Medieval stained glass taken from what was the All Hallow’s church before it was demolished in the C18th (why?!) to build the more ‘modern’ church(!) that can be seen today.  Whilst I’m a big fan of preservation and conservation of the original, I am partial to a bit of Victorian stained glass, so I will go with it.

Not all of it is Victorian, however, there are a few pieces of more modern stained glass too.

My favourite window(s) in the church are in a side chapel and are dedicated to Northumbria’s two saints: Oswald and Cuthbert.  Above is the window dedicated to St Cuthbert, filled with local wildlife.

And sitting at St Cuthbert’s feet is an eider duck – or Cuddy duck as they’re known in these parts – as he was the first person to protect the birds from all harm.

Whilst this one is dedicated to St Oswald, with much more exotic creatures (like a Mandarin duck!).  The stained glass itself isn’t old, made in 1933, but I do love the windows a lot as they hold a lot of meaning for this region.

The altar is splendid but typically Victorian.  I mean, it couldn’t be more ornamented if it tried and they ended up blocking the beautiful window at the far end.

In an attempt to make the place more grandiose for the wealthy industrialists, the wood carver was sent to Exeter cathedral to make copies of some of the misericords (though we don’t think he copied the very lewd carvings he would have seen there!).  We did meet and get talking to one of the volunteers, who took us on a sort of impromptu tour of the cathedral, pointing out all of these things that we might otherwise have missed.  We were very lucky, as there was hardly a soul there and we got to ask a lot of questions and find out a lot about the cathedral’s history.

This is the Thornton Brass and the picture does not do it justice – it is huge.  In fact, it is the largest brass in the UK and is quite something to behold.  It would originally have been the top of the family’s tomb, but was moved and mounted behind the altar.  It is a Flemish brass, probably pre-1440 and pays homage to Roger, his wife and their seven sons and seven daughters.  If you look hard enough, you might also see the family dog hiding!

The best bit about stained-glass windows?  The wonderful patterns they make on the floors when the sun is shining.

The oldest part of the original church has been made into a separate chapel for quiet contemplation.  It is hidden a bit from the main part of the church and has been used as a charnel house, too (when the church decided to disinter the bones of all those who had been buried within the church – and later cathedral’s – walls).  It is much cooler than the rest of the cathedral and has a proper church ‘smell’ about it; my kind of place!

Stained glass was added at the edge of the vaulted ceiling and commemorates the region’s heritage.  All in all, we had a great time visiting it and I will definitely be visiting again when I can.  I would recommend finding a volunteer to ask questions and also buying a copy of the guidebook to get some added info (we never buy guidebooks, but did buy theirs as we were interested enough to do so!).

Monday 26 January 2015

Arches, Angles and Angels

I have two favourite churches. The first is Sherborne Abbey, a place that I adore and which never fails to give me chills as I walk around it (you can find out more on it here). The second, and the church which I also hold dear, is Hexham Abbey.  Whilst not as grand as Sherborne, it is no less imposing and beautiful.  We didn’t have too long to potter this time, so I focused on the architectural features: the beautiful angles and symmetry that one can observe in few other places than churches.  I gazed upwards at the vaults and arches, wondering what stories these old walls could tell.  It turns out that I’m a sucker for Norman/Early English architecture – no surprise there!  What a gorgeous, peaceful place to while away half an hour.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Old Year: 2014 in Review

You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September!  Time it is a-flying.  It has been such a lovely, if challenging year.  It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed.  I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April.  Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland.  We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.

Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move.  We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could.  At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation.  This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen).  After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now.  We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.

If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth.  Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things.  It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.

I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come.  I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can.  I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.

So that’s it for 2014.  Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire.  We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!

To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours.  Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)

Monday 13 October 2014

Autumn Morning

Saturday was sunny and glorious, so we found ourselves off for our weekend potter around Hexham once more.  Instead of our usual trip to a café for coffee, we decided to get ours ‘to go’ and headed off to the park for a stroll and a chance (at long last!) to get the camera out.  I have struggled to do anything creative, which I blame on the stress of the house renovation, but I know that in a couple of months it’ll all be over and all will be settled down once more.  It was nice to sit and chat on the cold park bench, whilst the dew dripped off the beech tree above us.  Coos of pigeons and darting blackbirds filled the park and the quarters were marked by the bell of Hexham Abbey, as they have for many, many years.  Best of all, I finally found autumn colours shining through in the bright red of the ivy and the yellows and browns of the sessile oaks.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Hexham Abbey

I somehow can’t believe that it has been over 4 years since I last made a pilgrimage to Hexham Abbey, but indeed it has been that long.  Or at least, we have been back to Hexham with the intention of visiting the Abbey, but each time we visited it was closed for one function or another.  I don’t think I realised how much I had missed it until I was in there, breathing that old, old air once more.

When living in Cambridgeshire, our ‘local’ cathedral was Peterborough and I suppose I got used to the epic proportions, enormous aisles and vertiginous painted ceilings.  Whilst Hexham Abbey is considerably smaller, it is no less warm, inviting or interesting than its larger counterparts.  In fact, it has a very homely feeling about it.

The sun was just catching the stained glass windows and illuminating the Abbey wonderfully.

This window in particular stood out to both myself and Mr VP.  I don’t remember seeing it before, but I suppose I must’ve overlooked it.  Perhaps I hadn’t ever visited when the sun was shining just-so, setting off a trail of bright blue illuminations along the stone walls.

The Abbey itself dates back to the 7th-Century, but these arches, and most of the other architecture of the church, are Early English, hence the carving and shape of the arches.  The crypt below the church, which I have been into previously and which is warm and peaceful, was made by Roman soldiers, according to carvings left down there.  It features a small shrine of similar layout to a proper church, complete with ante-chambers and barrel-vaulted roof.

Whenever I see painted wooden panels, I think of the glorious Seglora Kyrka in Stockholm, whose interior is painted with biblical scenes.

It was nice to have a moment of calm reflection in the day, particularly after the stress of the last few weeks.

There is such beauty in symmetry, don’t you think?

The visit to Hexham Abbey felt like a big spiritual hug, a welcoming back of sorts.  The awe that the Abbey inspires is no less than anywhere else and its familiarity made it all the more welcoming.  Thank you Hexham Abbey.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Cows and Castles

On Monday, as it was a bank holiday with glorious weather (doesn’t often happen!) and Mr VP’s last day off before he began his new job, it seemed silly not to make the most of it. We studiously avoid anywhere ‘touristy’ on such days, so Mr VP and I opted to get up early and head out before it got too hot or too crowded anywhere. We headed for some places that we knew well, knowing that they were off the beaten track enough to mean that we’d have the whole place to ourselves.

One of my favourite places to visit is a ruined castle in the middle of what is now a farmer’s fields, nestled in a valley between tall moors and crags. We first visited it in the summer of 2009, when we spent most of our summer on a county-wide castle and bastle hunt, and have visited many times since. Each time we visit, we see the castle and the farm land in a slightly different light. Usually, we’re the only ones at the castle, but this time there were quite a few walkers gathering before heading off up one of the many hills nearby.

I had made a delicious quiche Lorraine (I cannot begin to tell you what it is like to have a properly-functioning oven again) and packed the slices up with the obligatory quavers, apple, sweet treat and bottle of water (our flask is somewhere, we just don’t quite know where). It was a bit early for lunch, but we picnicked in the castle’s solar tower, with no sound around us but the squawk of jackdaws, whose nests were cleverly placed in the ruins’ many nooks and crannies and the lowing of the cattle in the field next door.

The castle itself was not really meant as a castle, but was more of a fortified hall with nearby chapel. Both the ‘hall castle’ (C13th) and the church share fortifications from around the same period, though the church, like many, is built on earlier foundations and has been extensively changed through the centuries. Virtually all properties in Northumberland built between 1300 and 1600 were built to withstand the constant threat of raids from the Border Reivers, an Anglo-Scottish raiding force which would pillage and destroy property on the borderlands of England and Scotland. Thus, Northumberland has more castles, bastles (fortified farmsteads) and Pele towers than any other county in the United Kingdom. The person who built this hall had to create a heavily-fortified solar tower capable of protecting his livestock, workers and himself from the Reivers.

Speaking of the cattle, I think we made a few friends. From a distance, I thought that these cows were young beef steers, but upon closer investigation I realised that they were actually playful heifers, who were very interested in our lunch bag.

Though the fence was pretty flimsy, and I was hesitant to get too close as they looked a little skittish, I slowly edged my way up to them and stroked the soft-but-firm pink nose of Number Two. Her eyes widened but she didn’t shy away, instead eyeing Mr VP’s apple. She was all gingery lashes, soft-warm breath and grassy slobber. I think I fell a little bit in love with her and hoped that she would be there next time we went to visit.

Soon, she got a nudge from Number Sixty-Seven, who obviously wanted in on the attention.

This has to be one of the best photos ever!  Cowslip flowering with a curious cow in the background.

I hadn’t realised just how much I had missed the hills and moors, which are so much more beautiful and ragged than the flat agricultural land of Cambridgeshire.

We wandered back towards the church, which still bears arrow-slits in its tower, rather than the large louvered openings seen in other regional churches of the same date.

Inside, the church is a mishmash of different epochs, from the earliest, through the Norman period to more recent renovations. Look closely (and pay 50p to buy a copy of the history of the church) and you will be rewarded with a map to the almost-hidden, bricked-up doors and original bar-holes where thick iron rods would have protected the church and its inhabitants from the Reivers. The church is still used for services to this day, in rotation with other churches in the parish, as it is so small.

These nailhead carvings are a typical very early Gothic Norman design technique, employed to great effect on these column heads.

One of the last times we visited, there was someone local who was knowledgeable about such things and said that the damp, which is very pronounced at one side of the church, was a result of there being a spring or a stream nearby.  I cannot remember all of the details (it was some 5 years ago, after all) but it struck me that many churches have links to ancient streams and springs.

I admired the flowers that someone had put out in the church, given that there are hardly any houses nearby.  It made an already-inviting church even more cheery.

Outside, I couldn’t help but enjoy these old steps, full of moss and wear.  All in all, we had a blissfully peaceful day and managed to avoid all the crowds that bigger places would have attracted. I had forgotten just how glorious May in Northumberland actually is and I for one cannot wait to get back out to explore some more!

Thursday 10 April 2014

Lincoln Cathedral

I have been largely absent for what seems like an age. There is a lot going on at Chez VP that I can’t quite go into on here just yet.  All will be revealed in due time, of course, but as yet everything’s up in the air and our days have been so extremely busy trying to get everything done.  I can feel the odd grey hair (more!) beginning to poke its way through as the stress leaves its mark and by bedtime, which is now quite early, I fall into bed and into a wakeful, dream-filled sleep.  Such is life at the moment as we are in the midst of transition and upheaval.

In the midst of the upheaval, we went away for the week, Mr VP and I.  A very good friend was up to visit us and so we all headed to Lincoln (where we had the pleasure of staying with my Mum) for a week and we had a really good time.  I quite enjoy playing the role of host, showing someone a new place and exploring well-known places as a tourist.  I must admit, I hadn’t seen the inside of Lincoln Cathedral as a tourist since maybe 2001 – a long time indeed!  I think we were mostly put off by the fact that Lincoln charges a compulsory (£6) entrance fee, whereas other cathedrals (Peterborough, Wells etc) make money from photography passes and donations (as well as shops and tea rooms); a much fairer system to me.  But as we had a visitor, it made sense to visit Lincoln’s crowning jewel.

The thing that struck me was just how dark it is in there.  Admittedly, we went on a very foggy day (that was definitely fog and not the lung-lining smog that would come later) but the cathedral was so dark and that was, in part I think, due to the astounding amount of blue glass.  It cast a kind of eerie, cold glow about the place that wasn’t wholly pleasant.  Almost all of the stained glass is Victorian, when blue glass was suddenly easier to make on a large scale, and this is reflected in its wide usage.  I do very much like elaborate stone carving and the full array of English Gothic styling throughout, but it felt fairly cold as a place.  We had a really nice potter around Steep Hill (steep by name, steep by nature!) before descending it for hot chocolate (my friend), Assam tea (me) and an interesting (forgotten) tea (Mr VP) in one of the lovely tea houses on the hill.  All in all, a very lovely day out.

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