Ø June 28 Leicester and Peterborough (Friday)
Daniel had a morning appointment at the gym at 8:15, but was back by the time I finished packing and prep’ing. Easily got to the Birmingham New Street station and found the train to Leicester. Three carriages, and three stops, on the hour trip I started my first blog real-time, pasting in a Google Document I’d written on the Greek Orthodox Cathedrals in London. And of course, learning on the fly, there were a few difficulties along the steep learning curve.
In Leicester, I was making another day trip stop, so had a drop point identified. The Tourist Office email sent me to a large indoor mall, and when I got to the lockers, they were much too small to be practical. Checking at the information desk, she suggested the bus depot, so off I went for another 20 minutes, wheeling and pulling the blasted suitcase. At the bus depot, there were indeed large enough lockers. All in use, I checked with the information desk there, and was told that former felons put their gear in the lockers for cheap storage, and retrieve when their situations improve. None would be available as none were in short-term use. And the locksmith who would break them open as abandoned property hadn’t shown up.
So I decided to see how the cathedral itself might handle it. [I had tried stasher.com from the bus depot, but there were no nearby options.] Back into the Haymarket for the third time and an hour plus of warm and sunny surface streets, I arrived at the cathedral close. The neighboring Guildhall Museum would have allowed me to “check’ my bag, but only while I was in the museum. So into the Cathedral Church of St Martin. While I couldn’t “park” it and wander, I was allowed to take it around the church with me. A small building with an imposingly large central stone spire, it is “handicap friendly” so the bag could go most anywhere.
While a Norman cathedral had existed elsewhere in Leicester, this parish church dated from the same period, but was elevated to a cathedral in 1927. Seemingly a little larger than Oxford, the central nave is wider and better proportioned. A major portion of the presbytery was used for the burial memorial for King Richard III, whose remains had been discovered while excavating nearby in a car park in 2015. As I had arrived after the 11:30 tour (without a reservation, which are supposed to be made 3 weeks in advance), I was able to join the Richard III tour. It lasted until the 1pm Eucharist service.
Twelve of us attended, and tea afterwards allowed me to spend time speaking with the priest. Both he and a retired priest there suggested I investigate my religious upbringing again.
There are some splendid windows in the cathedral, some a seemingly combination of old and new (probably Victorian) and some distinctly modern. A modern stone table is the nave altar, and sits in the cross with the modern cathedra, in red and yellow leather with a tall wooden cross as a backing. Behind a screen is Richard’s resting place, and through an arch, one goes into a small quire. The high altar is simpler than most, with the sanctuary decorated with plants and stones and three large perpendicular Gothic Victorian stained-glass windows. To me, it looked difficult to use.
Exiting after tea, I noticed St Nicholas, the oldest church in Leicester nearby. Impressive in its solid appearance, it unfortunately was locked. I had one more stop to make, as there is a Greek Orthodox cathedral in Leicester. Google said it was 35 minutes away by foot, with another half hour needed to get back to the station. Not interested in lugging the suitcase, I noticed Circle Taxi, a taxi dispatch office across from The High Cross, and approached them and booked a car to take me to the cathedral, wait while I took a few photos, and then drop me at the station. While I was waiting for the car, a woman approached, asking if I was looking for a spot to drop my bag, as there was an inn on the corner. I thanked her (a little too late) and suggested that they advise the T.O. and stasher.com to get more business.
My driver collected me and drove me around to the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas and St Xenophon. On the busy corner of Brazil St and Aylestone Road, the driver had to circle the block while I ran around the wrought iron fencing protecting the grounds. I think I didn’t even try to see if the red brick building was open. The front gate was chained.
The driver got me to the station with two minutes to spare before the Stansted train to Peterborough. I managed to board the last carriage. Riding for an hour with no air flow, and seated with a mother and three daughters, the onboard Internet continued to be spotty, and I was left looking forward to getting to my next destination.
My lodgings in Peterborough were at a Park Inn by Radisson for the weekend. While, as the crow flies, the hotel is about a quarter mile from the station, you can’t walk there directly. Their path takes you past the Queensgate Shopping Centre before stepping you through mixed residential-and small retail/service businesses. And doesn’t really deliver you to the hotel: it isn’t actually on Wentworth Street but rather Bourger Boulevard, a major artery or ring road through the town along the river. Better to walk to the Guildhall and then down the pedestrian walkway of Bridge Street, and right at the ring road. And of course, the phone’s battery died about midway to the Park Inn Hotel.
Slow staff checking guests in, as some racing event seemed on the calendar. After 10 minutes, I was briskly checked into Room 119, overlooking the ring road. Big bed, enough floor space, the only downside was the card key was needed to have electricity, to charge the phone while I was out. Some minor unpacking and out, back down Bridge Street through the gate into the cathedral close. Evening prayer at the Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew was a brief 35 minutes. I was able to get a half dozen pictures inside, and about as many outside before exiting the gate.
The Guildhall sits in the center of a large pedestrian space, which, that evening, was warm and sunny, occupied with folks relaxing on the grass. Returning to Bridge Street, I unsuccessfully sought bananas and a few supplies as I proceeded to cross the ring road and then the River Nene. Charter’s Bar on a barge moored downstream from the bridge was doing great business, filling up the neighboring park as well as three decks with customers. I snagged an Egyptian Cream, a porter, which was pretty good. Checking with the hostess, no tables were available for dinner for 2 hours (then 8pm), so I left and began walking along the river.
Heading downstream along a walking/bicycle path, I went under train bridges, walking along gardens, fields and the riverbank. Crossing back to the “town side”, I was out in a bucolic residential tract. As I returned to town, I crossed a bridge over many sets of rails, achieving some altitude such that I go a good view of the cathedral roof. A pedestrian walkway at the Queensgate Roundabout, illustrated with clever graffiti, brought me back into the commercial world.
Hungry and in need of “the toilets”, I walked down the dead-end King Street and into XOXO Grill House. I ordered their signature Buffalo wings, an XOXO Burger (stuffed with cheese; with lettuce, fried onions, mayonnaise and more cheese) with cole slaw. They didn’t serve alcohol, so I had a Snickers shake. Very spicy wings, the small kitchen actually staggered my food properly. The burger was fair – the cheddar lacked cheese flavor – and the slaw was all red cabbage. The shake turned out to be a great dessert once it started to melt.
As I walked back through Cathedral Square, there were a lot of younger people out, and some restaurants were doing brisk business. The gate into the close was closed, so only the tops of the cathedral towers were visible. When I got to the room, I was able to complete the work on the blog (except for the rotated photo) and sent out an email blast to ask folks to read and comment. With 13 blogs to date (end of August), it’s the one that has had the most reads (more than all the others combined). Who would think the seven Greek Orthodox cathedrals in London would get that much notice? And I continued pushing individual cathedral pictures up to Facebook, although they mostly went to the wrong page. No alarm for the morning – the tour was supposed to be at 11 – and I didn’t have breakfast included. With everything charging and my teeth and face clean, I crawled into bed.
Ø June 29 Peterborough (Saturday)
Sleeping late, I was up at 9 and off into town aiming for the 11am tour at the cathedral. It was Armed Forces Day, so the Bridge Street pedestrian way was full of booths being set up with craftspeople, food and trinket vendors, kids rides. Red jacketed military were formed up to march in front of the Guildhall. Veterans groups distributed information and solicited funds.
Arriving at the close early, I decided to try my circumnavigation plan. I was successful, getting around the curved apse at the east end into a small old burial ground where the grass grew long.
By half ten I was entering the gilded gate at the west entrance. Exploring the church, I took about three dozen pictures inside before Stephen led the six of us on the tour. We started at the baptismal font, located just inside the entry at the foot of the main aisle through the nave. (There would be a christening service later.) Claims to royal fame at the cathedral include the burials of two queens, Mary Stewart and Katherine of Aragon, with Mary Queen of Scots being moved later to Westminster Abbey.
Stephen was full of more history, explaining the Hedda Stone, the gravedigger Old Scarlet, the mechanical clock, a memorial to nurse Edith Cavell. He pointed out the fan vaulting in the crossing, and the intricate carvings of the bosses. Three medieval misericords survived the ravages of soldiers during the Civil War, displayed below a WWI memorial plaque for an Australian, wounded in France and died in the local hospital. This is a cathedral where looking up is rewarded with awesome ceilings.
At 2pm there would be a High Parts tour, but it was fully booked. I hoped to get a cancellation, so I zipped out to The Queen’s Head for chicken curry, getting back just before 2 to find it was fully attended. Returning to the festivities out in the square, an owl was on display by the birds of prey folks, crowds were watching to musical entertainment with wonderful weather. As the cathedral choir was rehearsing and recording, there was no evening service, so I did a little shopping at the mall and returned to the room for a nap. After getting some of the communication requirements handled online, I crossed the river to visit the supermarket for bananas and a tube of pain salve. I dropped my new ice pack off at the front desk to chill, and went to get some long-light shots of the front of the cathedral, as the gate limits any later setting sun shots.
O’Neill’s pub was away from the pedestrian mall, as I continued to explore Peterborough. I tried a Chaplain, a brown Irish pale ale. I really enjoyed it, and my notes favor it with the complement of being the best I’d had while in England. The pub was large, with most patrons at tables outside, but I felt another venue for dinner was in order.
So crossing the road, I walked into The College Arms, a Wetherspoon pub (big chain) and had barbecued ribs with jacket potatoes, accompanied by a Doom Bar. I tried to get slaw instead, but not an option. Doom Bar wasn’t my first (or second) choice, but the bar was running out of selections. A huge place with a lot of floorspace and a very large bar, I headed around a corner away from the bar and found a quiet table as the restaurant was quite noisy.