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Carlisle: Northwest England

Ø July 18 Carlisle (Thursday)

Charging the Nikon batteries overnight, with a switch during a pee break, apparently wasn’t as effective as prior times. I wound up putting one clone battery aside since it wouldn’t take a charge. I’d set the alarm and actually awakened to it, had some issues with WiFi requiring re-connecting so I could get a few pictures onto the phone to put on Facebook. It was pushing 9 before I cleared the hotel, but the Newcastle station was directly across the street, and I was on the platform for 15 minutes before the 2 carriages pulled in. Only a few of us boarded, and once underway, the railroad’s WiFi actually worked!

Links to more photos here

Nice countryside, we followed the Tyne most of the way to Wexham. [I’m always learning as I travel. One of my discoveries was that I was going to be near, but miss, three pre-Conquest abbey cathedral sites, including Wexham.] I detected the engine working harder as we peaked crossing from east to west.

With only 5 stops, the ride took 80 minutes and we arrived in Carlisle on time. The Crown and Mitre Hotel was a flat walk of less than a half mile, mostly by pedestrian-only roads through the city center and commercial district. Arriving at 11, the room wouldn’t be ready until 2. Situated just down the street from the cathedral, the hotel was hosting many guests attending the graduation ceremonies of the University of Cumbria. That meant that the cathedral wouldn’t be available for tourist until about 2pm.

Walking down and passing the cathedral, camera at ready, I got some outside shots and continued northwest to Carlisle Castle. Still a military base until recently, the admission ticket grants access to the easternmost corner of this English Heritage walled fortress. (For an additional amount, one can visit Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life.) A lot of British history was evident: Harking back nearly 2 millennia, the site had been a Roman fort and critical part of the defense of Hadrian’s Wall, several miles to the north. A castle was built by William Rufus (William II) to serve as the English base for keeping Picts/Scots to the north. The castle switched ownership between Scots and English repeatedly. A battle there in 1461 was a bloody episode in the struggle by the Houses of Lancaster and York for the English crown, known as the War of the Roses. The victor was York, establishing the Tudor dynasty.

Mary (Stuart), Queen of Scots spent time in 1567 at the Warden’s Tower, now named for her, with the costs borne by her cousin Elizabeth I, who later had her put to death. After the 1603 union under Mary’s son James VI of Scotland/James I of Britain, the garrison should have lost function. But James’ son, Charles I, had issues with Parliament, leading to the Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth. The garrison was Royalist; Scots and Parliamentarian English forces laid a successful siege in 1645. One hundred years later, Bonnie Price Charlie leading the second Jacobite attempt to restore the Stuarts to the throne took Carlisle Castle and held it for a month.

Enough history – from the street, a wide expanse of grass rises before 2-story tall red-stone walls that surround the grounds. Tickets are sold here, the outer guardhouse which has some “summary displays” for the frugal. Then I proceeded to the right and descended through the base of the half-moon battery. Entering into the heritage area through the Captain’s Gate, a narrow path into the castle grounds. First stop for me was the facilities, which took a bit of searching as they are poorly marked.

The Military Store and the Keep were the two buildings I was able to enter, viewing nearly empty rooms with limited signage. Of more interest were the carvings made by prisoners, the well, and the views from the high places. Walking the walls, getting out into the bright warm sunlight was a relief from the oppressive dankness of the keep. The view from the location of Queen Mary’s Tower afforded a nice panorama to the east and north, and the countryside towards Hadrian’s Wall, 8 miles away. I found myself wandering in the Captain’s Tower, which many others never entered.

Walking back to town, I got a few more shots of the south side of the cathedral through the mature trees surrounding most of the east end. Crossing the street, I visited Turbo Juice figuring that I could get my banana in a fruit smoothie for lunch. Two observations: a non-enthusiastic staff who seemed put out to have to deal with a customer, and “large” there is nowhere near a large in the States, land of jumbo portions. Wanting to journal, it seemed that I’d lost another pen after killing my favorite the day before. I was down to my last, and had two weeks to go! Returning to the hotel to see if they had promo pens, which they didn’t, a woman at the University of Cumbria Alumni table handed me her spiffy pen, as she was about to close down their information table as graduation was concluding.

Heading back to the cathedral, the attendees were only slowly exiting the building and many were posing with the gowned sheep mascot out front. I decided to try my circumnavigation, and slowly began taking more outside pictures. Still not 2pm, I decided to wander in town and check out the market. Bonzai! I found a cheese monger who sold me a “strong cheddar” from Ireland. I was a happy camper. Finally able to enter the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, there is no longer a nave. (It is the second smallest of England’s ancient cathedrals, having become a cathedral in 1133. The nave was shortened by Scots Presbyterians during the Civil War, when the stones were used to reinforce the castle.) Using the south door, there are just two pairs of thick Norman columns to the west of the crossing arch which leads into the quire. The wooden ceiling in the west end doesn’t rise as high as the eastern side beyond the crossing and central tower.

Organ pipes sit over the wooden screen backing on the dark, carved wooden stalls. Overhead in the quire a rounded sky-blue ceiling with six- and ten-pointed gold stars in panels adorns the view towards heaven. At the east end, the high altar sits under a modern tall ornate baldachin of gilded carvings. Behind the altar is the East End Window from about 1350 in the flowing Decorative Gothic style. To quote Wikipedia: ”It is the largest and most complex such window in England, being 51 feet high and 26 feet wide. It has nine lights, and tracery, which, it has been calculated, was drafted from 263 points. The tracery of the window still contains much of its original medieval glass.” It is rather lovely.

The stalls for the canons and chancellors, in back of the choir seats and benches, are medieval and include a fabulous collection of carved misericords - I probably took

sixteen pictures of examples. In addition, there are great carvings at the ends of the rows as well as the back walls. The cathedra of black oak is of modest proportions when compared to those of the southern (Victorian) cathedrae.

The trifold brochure from the front desk, and Wikipedia are both not overly elaborate on describing the chapel altars. Of note is the Brougham triptych, wooden of the 16th century found opposite the cathedral entrance. Down the north aisle on choir walls are the remains of medieval paintings of the lives of the saints. Because the greeters and guides had been somewhat surly (my notes say hostile), I wasn’t able to absorb much from staff and volunteers. I did overhear one talking about the deformations of some of the arches and supports due to settling of the piers, and noted the irregular shape of one arch and the staggering of some stones on another.

With the graduation ceremony crowds dispersed, I took a few more shots of the eastern end before going back toward the hotel to get checked it. An adequate room, with insufficient space to place my bag on the floor, I left it on the bed. Deciding to wet my whistle next, I had a Grasmoor dark ale at The King’s Head, a pub, and filled a page in my journal. Included in my notes was my consternation trying to understand (and differentiate) the Scots, Irish and Cumbrian accents. All seemed pretty thick.

Finishing, I had some time to wander, checking out possible places for dinner. I only took two pictures: a radio tower and an Eastern religious icon, with notes. Evensong was at 5:45 with a visiting choir of 9 men and 10 women. Two celebrants and 7 of us attendees. I sat in the stalls next to a couple from Melbourne. The service was all in English, with the Precis light and joyful. The readings continued the Samson story, and from Luke prior to Holy Week. I found the Anthem interesting, without noting any details. Clergy and singers all disappeared immediately after processing out.

Going outside, I walked around the cathedral some more, focusing on details as the light was becoming kinder due to cloud cover rolling in. With mature trees reaching up to the roofline, and placed in the green around the building, it was another church to put on the “visit in the winter” photo list.

I began a wander looking for a non-touristy restaurant. I knew that I had to get away from the castle and cathedral, and the shopping walks near the train station. As I passed The Kings Head, a posted sign provided a good synopsis of the city’s history. Walking east, I found SannaS, a casual Sardinian restaurant. As my daily booze intake had been less than usual, and figuring I could take leftovers with me, I opted for a bottle of Alarossa d’Italia, a ‘14 IGT from Puglia. Choosing chef specials, Crostini Salsa Rossa (grilled mozzarella crostini with salsa rossa, wild rocket and balsamic glaze), Agnello e Asparagi (lamb rump with new potatoes, asparagus and tempura broccoli). The restaurant itself was a former house on a corner, there was a spiral staircase by the front door up to the wine cave, and the other support features (like clean flatware, plates, glassware, …)

The starter was delicious, so much better than nights previous. The main was over the top; absolutely superb. The wine was a bit young and fruity, delicious and matched well with the lamb. It was all soooo good! Trusting to try dessert, I got Sardinian cheese tart, topped with honey and hazelnuts, on a bed of raspberry and dusted with white chocolate. I finished the wine, and had a decaf cap.

Two young men run the place: one from Sardinia, the other from Ayr in Scotland. Neither feeling this was home, they were still quite friendly and gregarious. Over dinner I spoke with a Scotsman from Glasgow and his English wife; they took my card and my Scots heritage information, promising to get some information together for me.

Walking back to the hotel, I spied an open globe at the top of a building that intrigued me. That, plus I took some street shots in the dusky light as I walked to the cathedral to take a dozen or so shots of the church. I walked down toward the castle, but the keep wasn’t lit, so got more of the south and east face of the cathedral. Over 300 photos to send to the cloud, both camera batteries and the phone to charge, and I had to keep the tablet plugged in too. I had a little juggling to do through the night, but I’d heard from my B&B host in Edinburgh, so the lockbox code and instructions were recorded and I rested easily.

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