16 May 2016

A Weekend in the 12th Century

Desperately needing a couple of days away from work and normal home routine, my family decided to spend this past weekend along the southern edge of the North York Moors.  We became members of English Heritage when we were in England for my first sabbatical seven years ago; renewing our membership was one of the first things we did after getting settled in Sheffield for this sabbatical.  We've been all over the UK looking at marvelous monuments to history.  Four such English Heritage monuments took us back to the 12th century while up north this past weekend.

After the Norman Invasion of England in the 11th century, new castles and abbeys were built.  Castles often had the motte-and-bailey fortification scheme.  Those are the most fun for my younger daughter and me because we love to climb the earthworks and "attack" the castles.  Playful today for sure, but we do get at least a sliver of a glimpse as to what it would have been like to make an attack on a motte-and-bailey castle.

Because the places we visited were not so easy to get to via train and bus, we rented an automobile.  It was my first time driving in England, though I had driven in Ireland seven years ago, so it wasn't my first time driving on the "wrong" side of the road with the steering wheel on the "wrong" side of the car.  My wife was great about reminding me to "Keep left!", but it didn't take long to get used to driving here.  The circuitous loop we had to take to get to a petrol station at a services exit is a story for another day.  For now, I'll mention that it was a thrill driving up to the North York Moors.  We saw many large fields of rapeseed, which provided spectacular yellow next to the lush greenery.

Our first stop was to an abbey that I'd wanted to see for a long time, Rievaulx Abbey.  The magnificent structure is located in an idyllic setting:  peaceful with beautiful vistas.  The photo I took below hardly does the monument justice (click on the image for a larger view).
The architecture blew us away.  There was so much to see.  We learned that Henry VIII dissolved the abbey in 1538, a fact mentioned early on the abbey's Wikipedia page.  English Heritage does a great job with images scattered throughout that give a sense of what life was like when the monuments were in their heyday.  Check out the reconstructed image of the refectory on the left and the actual remains of the refectory (upper floor) in the photo on the right (click on the image for a larger view).
It was wonderful standing where I took the photo on the right and imagining the roof and the windows in their finished splendor.

We then drove to Helmsley Castle where my younger daughter and I did all kinds of climbing on and around the earthworks.  It was a blast!  The photo below shows where we attacked the castle (click on the image for a larger view).

The castle shadow kept our attack from being discovered!  Once inside the castle grounds, I snapped a photo of the East Tower (click on the image for a larger view).
We loved the weather and the gorgeous green grass.  After a great night's sleep at The George and Dragon Hotel in Kirkbymoorside, we drove to Pickering Castle.  We were met by a lovely English Heritage host who gave us the rules off the bat:  no climbing!  My younger daughter and I were disappointed, but we understood that climbing would have meant disturbing birds' nests in the earthworks.  The photo below shows me near some castle ruins (click on the image for a larger view).
Our fourth and final destination was Byland Abbey.  I was thoroughly amazed by the size of the abbey.  I tried with the photo below to capture the size of the ruins, but there is so much more to the left of the photo that I didn't succeed (click on the image for a larger view).
Just look at the size of the cloister in the photo below (click on the image for a larger view).
I can think of several games that could be played on that much grass!  My daughters had fun racing along the edges.

A refreshing weekend away from work gave us the opportunity to explore beautiful parts of England and transform ourselves back to the 12th century.  All of the structures we visited thrived in centuries that followed the 12th, and thousands of people either called them home or passed through them on their travels.  We are glad English Heritage maintains these national treasures and allows visitors to England, like us, the chance to learn and experience the history in the country we call home for a year.

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