The Stena ferry from Douglas on the Isle of Man to the English port of Heysham started with rough seas, but by the time the ship reached the port in northwest Lancashire, the sun was out and seas were calm. My itinerary had instructions to head out three-quarters of a mile to catch a bus into Lancaster, but I found a train depot right outside the terminal door, and queued with other passengers. The train followed the coast to Morecambe before arriving 40 minutes later quite close to the hotel. While mostly downhill, I was concerned as the slate was wet and occasionally slippery.
At the Royal Kings Arms at 2pm I was able to check in, and was assigned room 210: small, with a single bed and a nice shower (lacking soap or shampoo.) To the north (and west) of the city center is the River Lune, but Maps indicated that my route to the cathedral would take me through a large pedestrian area before taking the Nelson Street / East Road bridge over the Lancaster Canal and walking up a slight hill. The center of this city has restricted most motorized vehicles from the streets, allowing locals and visitors to wander pretty much at will.
St Peter’s Cathedral, also known as the Lancaster Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic church sitting on a corner rising from the canal. As a parish church, it was consecrated in 1859, and was elevated to cathedral status in 1924 for the diocese running from Preston north to Scotland. The bell tower at the northwest corner has a spire, with the exterior all sandstone, a dark tan. When I entered, the sexton was setting up for an education Mass, so hordes of elementary school children were due shortly. Enough to put the fear of God into me, I began taking what turned out to be 80 interior photos in 35 minutes, escaping ahead of classrooms of kids.
Neo-Gothic in design (by local architect E.G. Paley), my overall impression was favorable – in particular, the color scheme of dark timber ribs in the vault filling the spacing with gold and brown stenciling on a tan field is a welcome palate. Cream walls are topped with a navy and red border, again with gold stenciling. The flooring is tile, with several different patterns (and colors) throughout. Behind the high altar is an opened triptych filled with small paintings or bas reliefs, trimmed in gold lacing. The choir stalls are elegant carved oak. Depicted in the arched shallow alcoves of the back wall are saints and bishops, done on linoleum – these look like icons, and need restoration, however, despite linoleum being invented in Lancaster, the skill to care and treat these masterpieces doesn’t exist.
Wikipedia includes that the baptistry is a significant part of this Class II historic structure. My initial efforts to get pictures through a locked gate were frustrating, but the sexton spotted me and unlocked it. Opposite is a chapel to St Charles Borromeo, patron of the Cathedral Chapter. The ambry is located next to the chapel at the Sacred Heart altar. Two cathedrae are found: the old carved of wood between the baptistry and the Lady chapel, while the newer of simple gray stone sits near the altar.
Once outside, I walked along East Street noting sculpted heads and gargoyles. After a few more full church shots, I crossed the canal and spotted a brewery; its sign indicated it should be open that Friday afternoon, but it was locked. I continued my stroll past the Queen Victoria monument before walking the market street down to check the bus station. A rail strike was scheduled for Saturday, so I would need a bus rather than the train to get to Preston and Blackburn. Ascertaining the schedule and fare, I went back towards the Lancaster Castle. It ws just past 4, and I had missed the final guided tour. Leaving the docent to her group, I popped into the free Hanging Witches exhibit, with its clever diorama. Out the gate and around, I came to the Priory, but because a children’s choir rehearsal was underway, I concurred that I shouldn’t be inside with a camera. A rolling meadow filled the slope away from the Priory towards the river. As I came back around, off in Williamson Park (beyond the cathedral) was a tall domes white building, the Ashton Memorial.
Back to the hotel, and first order was to charge camera batteries. After a mild amount of unpacking, I decided to head to the Accidental Brewery and MicroPub, which I’d spotted near the cathedral. Noting that I needed the hotel’s wifi code to write more blog once I had dinner, my stomach growled – all I’d had was a coffee and muffin before boarding the ferry, and I was hungry.
Arriving at 6pm, the brewery/pub, which is on the second floor, was bustling. The beer menu on the wall offered 10 options, and I opted to order two triple-samplers: the first, numbers 1,3 and 8: Accidental’s Peanut and jam (fresh that day), Fierce Beer’s Moose Mousse, and Accidental’s Huck the Faze. Of the three, I liked the stout. Getting two bags of crisps (aka potato chips) since food had to be ordered from the nearby Aquila Pizza, I ordered my second set: #4, 5 and 3 (again): Accidental’s Green eggs and ham, and Spruce Saison, as well as a rerun of Moose Mousse. I liked the IPA, but liked the farmhouse ale better, although I was still partial to the stout.
Craving food, I headed out with a few recommendations and around the corner was The Borough. Continuing the beer focus, I had a Pheasant Plucker ale with my starters: garlic and rosemary (and cheese) focaccia and a Whipped goat cheese and beetroot salad with toasted cashew nuts. My notes say that the bread was tasty and excellent, and the salad also tasty. My main was a steak and ale pie with mashed potatoes and garden peas. The bowl was densely filled with tender beef and a thick wonderful gravy. The peas were consumed because I need green food.
Back in the room, I might have done more online work after my usual backing up. The night was uncomfortable, with both my thighs and right knee getting cramps once I was in bed. Despite the magnesium oil spray, I wound up flat on my back for a portion of the remainder of the night.
Preston and Blackburn
Despite poorly sleeping, I was able to get organized and attempted to check out. Front desk staff were absent, perhaps dealing with breakfast, so after 5 minutes waiting, I just left my key and began the walk, rolling my bags down the slight hill to the bus station. As it was the weekend, I suspect the driver was a bit more cavalier and chatted with colleagues, thus leaving 7 minutes behind schedule. Preston was about 20 minutes on the bus, and the stop was just around the corner from the church.
St Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral is the seat of the Catholic Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain. When I entered, a service appeared to be underway, so I found a pew towards the back and observed. With four young men assisting the priest, I attempted to follow, but they were speaking a language I didn’t recognize. Once the swinging of the censure and parading around concluded, I was able to speak with a few attendees: there had been a Mass and Christening, and they were speaking Malayam, the language spoken in Kerala. And they were Catholics, subject to Rome, not the orthodox sect Malankara that I’d learned about when researching Houston, Texas (where they have a cathedral.)
Originally the RC Church of St Ignatius, it has been the Syro-Malabar seat since 2015. Over the ensuing seven plus years, accents have been added. Most striking to me was the strong use of red and a flag blue on the altars and lecterns. The original stained-glass remain, with the clerestory windows adding welcome light into the nave. Up to the crossing, the two aisles follow the supporting columns, raising a red vault (then currently being stenciled.) This was a very interesting church to visit.
Back outside, I had about a 3-4 block walk to the bus depot, where there were 40 stanchions, some with waiting buses, on the street level, and three levels of parking above. Twenty-five minutes later I was alighting from the bus at the Blackburn transportation center – opposite the rail station. It took me a bit to figure out where the Blackburn Town Center hotel was, as the markings were for the Premier Inn chain. The room wasn’t ready, so I left my gear and headed out across a broad plaza to the east of the cathedral.
With gray pavers across an expanse that had unoccupied café tables and a statue of Queen Victoria, the rear of the Cathedral Church of St Mary has artwork both on and near the building. A tall thin spire rises over the octagonal lantern, but it is evident this is a relatively new structure. Approaching the entrance rounding the north transept, mature trees, some flaunting autumn colors, hid a full view. Entering the single doorway in the clock tower which stands over the west end, the somber neo-gothic façade is forgotten in the brightness of the nave. With Parliament’s expansion of the list of cities and therefore cathedrals in the mid 1920’s, Blackburn selected St Mary’s Church. Over nearly a century it has been expanded and raised, and the sunlight through the clear glass of the windows glows on the flat white walls. The columns and clerestory walls are ecru, and gold trim has been lightly used. Suspended over the altar table is a large circular candelabra. The stations hanging on the walls of the nave between the windows are unframed mainly red and black oils.
The octagonal lantern has 7 narrow panels of abstract stained-glass per side, filling about half its height,
the vault and remainder being muted orange-colored painted surfaces. Similar to the lanterns at Liverpool and Ely, as the sun transits the sky, different colors splash across the floor. While the nave windows are clear Swedish glass, older stained-glass is included in the arches of the transept windows. Over the entrance, when turning to observe the non-fixed chairs that seat parishioners, is a large sculpture of Christ that is stunning. Other delights – misericords, bosses that include green men – were easy to spot, albeit out of reach.
Hungry, I went downstairs to the café and had a Lancashire cheese and caramelized onion chutney sandwich with coffee. Returning to the church floor, the organist had slipped in and was practicing. I found a spot where I could watch both his hands and feet while he worked away for 90 minutes. While I didn’t recognize any of the works, he fully utilized most of the effects of the organ. When he stopped, I thanked him, and then went behind a screen, a memorial tapestry to Queen Elizabeth II, where I found the misericords. The traditional Lady chapel had been dubbed the Jesus chapel, as the church is dedicated to Mary.
Leaving, I walked around to check on the train station. It was firmly closed up for the strike, so I was unable to ascertain any changes I might expect the following day. Over to the hotel, with its semi-automated check-in, I got my key and collected my bags, to head up to room 208. Getting on wifi, I returned a call to Mexico, and determined the incoming had been a butt-call. Still a good phone conversation. Deciding to check out the city, I headed out, walking towards the large mall structure, which, at 5:30 on a Saturday, was closing up! I continued to wander about, hoping to find a dining district without success. Most of the buildings were clean and well appointed, and I snapped shots of ornamentation here and there.
Coming across a pub with the name The Blackburn Times, looking like an old newspaper front, I stopped in for half a bitters while watching the first half hour of the Tottenham vs Bristol match. I had left the journal behind, so my observations were delayed on getting to paper, with details omitted. Albeit early for me to dine, I ate at the Firepit, a busy but large establishment with full glass walls looking across the plaza towards the hotel and cathedral. Not particularly hungry, I had salmon – pan-seared salmon, served with crushed new potatoes and samphire; finished with a baby prawn, garlic and white wine cream sauce – and a side salad, accompanied by an Australian chardonnay. Music was provided by a saxophonist seated by the entry, and for dessert I had a crunch bar cheesecake that was tasty. My notes the next day tell of an attractive woman sitting next to me striking up a conversation. Her three kids were with her ex-, and her boyfriend was away. I was her grandfather’s age. She suggested I stay for another glass of wine, but I left flattered. I tried a few night shots, but didn’t remember to try the night settings.
Off to York
Awake ahead of my alarm, already packed, I was downstairs and across the road to the station an hour earlier than planned. The itinerary had me on a train requiring a change, but the earlier one at the platform was direct! So, hopping on without a ticket, I found a seat and stashed my gear. This was the start of my using an 8-day BritRail pass, so showing the PDF on my phone was all I needed. A young man boarded ahead of me, nicely groomed and dressed, carrying a rucksack; he was heading north to begin his military service. Across the aisle, we talked a little, and then another young man sat with him, and they got deep into conversation. Seventy minutes later, I was back in York, and ambled across town to the Queen’s Hotel where I left my luggage. With my camera and string backpack holding the journal, I knew I had time to see the two local former pro-cathedrals and then meet up for my booked walking tour.
Crossing two bridges – over the Rivers Ouse and Foss and past the Clifford’s Tower – I arrived at St George’s Church. It had been the Roman Catholic pro-cathedral from 1850 until 1864. Situated on a quiet corner, I felt it wasn’t well kept and looked a bit shabby.
The signs indicated no service that Sunday, which led me to believe it was part of consolidating parishes, and would soon face being repurposed. Locked, I read that the architect, Joseph Hansom, had also invented the Hansom cab.
Heading mostly north, I crossed the Foss and walked to the Minster. My next objective was the Church of St Wilifred, the York Oratory, just down Duncombe Place from the west entrance. [My first experience with a Confederation of Oratories of Saint Philip Neri, a Cathoic society, albeit I’d been to other cities where there C.O. churches.] Mass was underway, and the smell of frankincense was strong. Sung in Latin, it was a solemn High Mass, which I hadn’t encountered in many years. The sermon was given by a seated prelate, and most of the attendees went up to receive.
I hung out as they either left or went upstairs for coffee/tea, and, despite most of the lights being turned off, proceeded to take pictures. Ornate, fully neo-gothic, the building had been the pro-cathedral from 1864 until 1878, when the cathedral was completed in Middlesbrough, to the north. Needing facilities, I joined the folks for coffee and a piece of cake, and had a chance to talk about Cathedrals to the Glory of God.
Arranged through GuruWalk.com, I kept an appointment at 2:30 to be in front of the Minster for a walking tour of York. The guide never showed. I’d been inside the cathedral in 2019, and, as it turned out, would have been barred as the city officials, clergy and barristers had a special service then. I watched as the berobed honorables, some in powdered wigs, processed behind a dozen weapon-bearing men in red costumes and enter through the north transept door. I learned no Evensong would be sung, which was a disappointment.
Back in 2019 the western façade had scaffolding, so I was able to get pictures of an unobstructed entrance. Beyond the crossing to the east, the nave and sanctuary exterior were covered with scaffolding, however. I suspect maintenance never stops. As I walked around the building, I was able to spot and get pictures of the gargoyles, some still performing their function of directing rainwater runoff away from the sides of the building. I remembered that the better shot, to include an almost full broadside of the south face, would be found from the city walls, albeit the slate roof of the chapter house obstructs the crossing tower. Plus the walls give a nice view into private backyards, and roof terraces.
Wandering the streets and feeling a bit chilled, I walked into a British Heart Foundation second-hand shop and picked up a padded jacket. On to Tesco for bananas and tonic, and after into a pharmacy to see if I could get Epson salts.
As I headed back to the hotel, goodies in hand, I crossed the Ouse and was soon assigned room 51. I’d passed a church which offered Evensong followed by a coffeehouse and pub. Sounded good to me, so I returned and entered All Saint’s, where the folks were pleased with new blood, albeit not a singer. It was a nice service, the start of a Sunday series on “Sacred Words”. I stayed after, hoping to share a beer, but the options were coffee or tea, with cake. Over decaf and cake I spoke with a few folk about my obsession and journey.
Leaving, I stopped in a pizza and pasta place to learn there was a 40-minute wait, so I pushed on to the Slug and Lettuce chain, where I found a choice of tables.
A starter called a mini-meze comprised of mixed olives and bell peppers with sesame hummus came with two pieces of the end of a white baguette. The smothered chicken wasn’t available, so I went with fish and chips, skipping the peas; the shoestring fries weren’t extra crispy as requested. At least the Brew Dog ale was decent.
North of York
Early in my planning I’d booked a rental car for a day, expecting to pick it up at the York railroad station. Over the ensuing months, construction had started at the station, and the rental place had moved 4 miles out of town to a place with no signage. I had breakfast of porridge with honey and yogurt, OJ and coffee. After waiting 20-25 minutes for the taxi that the hotel had called for me, I paid out the £25 and received keys to a brand new (odometer had 4 miles on it) Citroën. I decided to start by visiting to my furthest destination and headed to Hexham Abbey. A trip of 100 miles, the Garmin took me to the middle of a neighborhood, so I had to rely on the phone and Maps to find the site. There was an empty parking spot at the end of a rank along the iron fence skirting the property, so I pulled in. No local resident disk, I figured I might be lucky and get the same 2 hours they got.
The former Cathedral of St Andrew, also known as Hexham Abbey is a very large church with a cruciform footprint and a square tower rising over the crossing. Getting outside pictures was a pain, both because of the building’s size and all the mature trees. There is a nice museum with a good model to appreciate its true size. The current building was initiated in the twelfth century, but its episcopal heritage when it was the seat of bishops is ninth century, with the seat being moved to my next destination, Chester-le-Street, before finally being located in Durham.
Most of the elements of an older cathedral are present: a screen with paintings of bishops, a rood cross, a cathedra, misericords. The stained-glass was a mix of old and newer, as well as clerestory of clear glass. After I climbed down the stairs to the crypt to see the Roman carvings, the organist began noodling around on the console. Knowing to keep my parking to the free limit, I was back and ready to head out in 90 minutes.
My next stop was in the village of Chester-le-Street, backtracking about 30 miles. As I drove by the Parish Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert, an art teacher had a class of girls sitting in a parking lot across the street and drawing the church. I continued about another two blocks to find a parking yard with a spot which was free, as it was after 2pm. Returning up a slight hill, after getting a few outside shots I tried the front door. To my surprise, it was open, as the local Mother’s Union was having their annual event, and I was allowed to sit in back, listen to the sermon by the young pastor, and several reports of the good works this branch had performed.
As the group left, I was allowed to scout out the place to get my photos. Speaking with the caretakers, I learned about how St Mary’s considers itself to be the mother church for Durham Cathedral.
Pushing onward to my final cathedral, I missed a turn (on the wrong side of the A1), so came back around. The RC Cathedral Church of St Mary is a relatively new building, situated well south of Middlesbrough proper. [The previous cathedral property had been downtown, had been sold, and the building demolished.] I wound up parking across the street in the Parkway Shopping Centre, as the church doesn’t have any parking. It was locked, so after getting outside shots, I walked around to the Cathedral House (manse) and, as I prepared to ring, the door opened. A newly arrived priest from Kerala was preparing to take the dogs for a walk, and agreed to return and grant me a visit the church, once the dogs completed their business. I returned to the front door per his instructions and waited a few minutes.
Squarish diamond in footprint, the entry is at the northwest corner, with the altar placed in the southeast. Pews are placed in a downwardly sloping nave at angles around about half the raised altar. The cathedra sits behind the altar table, backed by a brilliant abstract painting. A skylight streaks above the sanctuary. Narrow slips of glass windows in the vault allow indirect sunlight to keep the nave bright and welcoming. Interestingly for me, there is a fifteenth station of the cross, the Resurrection.
The car rental place would close at 6pm, and I wanted to get their assistance in getting a taxi back to York proper. After filling up the tank, I took off, arriving with 5 minutes to spare. While the car was checked out, with 226 miles on the odometer, I went in and the staff began trying to get me a taxi. I checked Maps, and there was a bus stop about 300 yards away, with a bus due at half past. The taxi arrived before I bailed for the bus, and £10 lighter, I was dropped at the Minster, avoiding downtown traffic.
Into Oscar’s Wine Bar and Bistro, I risked getting “Mexican” and asked for a half order of Mucho Nachos: chili, guacamole, salsa, sour cream, beans, and cheese. Unlike my Irish experiences, the tomatoes weren’t Italian sauce, and the whole was good – not enough cheese, but then again, I’m a fromage-a-holic. For a main I asked for the Louisiana Platter: their own BBQ recipe on ribs, spicy chicken wings, prawns; garlic bread, chipotle slaw, fries and a salad. The meats were cool, the fries were chips but hot.
My notes report that I got lost wandering back through York Centre, but that’s not really a hardship. I got a night shot of All Saint’s where I’d attended Evensong the night before. When I reached the room, the wifi wasn’t particularly stable. So I didn’t do much besides backing up my photos, packing for the following day’s move, and reading a bit on the reader.
Awake ahead of the alarm, I was down for breakfast of porridge, juice and coffee. Construction had started just before 8 in the room next door, so I was ready to leave the hotel. It took me 15 minutes to walk to the station, and after getting on the last car (which had luggage space,) I found a seat sitting backwards and 20 minutes later began the first journal entry for the day as the train approached Leeds. Another 75 minutes and I’d make a train change at Manchester Piccadilly, with my eventual destination being Shrewsbury.