Three Things Thursday; Aged Things

For the first Three Things of the year I’m in my own back yard, for once. So I would like to present for your delection Three Historic…

…cities worth a visit in the UK.

For the first time I’m on a visit home outside of the constricts of work holidays, being currently ‘between jobs.’ This has resulted in a pleasantly extended visit and the opportunity to make a number of day trips. We’ve even fished out the passports and braved the heavily fortified borders of Wales and Scotland for extended adventures.

No, not really. We left the passports at home and snuck over like all the other illegal migrants from England in search of a better life.

All jokes aside, it has been an ongoing discussion as to whether Wonderboy can add two extra countries to the list of his many travels. As an English person with a great deal of respect for the autonomy, however limited, of the other countries that make up the (increasingly tenuously) United Kingdom, I of course advised that he can. As a person from a country whose 50 individual states have in some ways more autonomy than Wales and Scotland, he has decided he’s just listing the UK as one country. I’ve enlisted the help of the Internet, which informs me that Wales, Scotland and England are recognised as countries in name, although they don’t fit the generally accepted definition (Wikipedia), so I’m sticking with my count, and he’s sticking with his.

Thing 1 ~ Edinburgh (Scotland)

Edinburgh, capital of Scotland, is one of my favourite cities in the world. When I used to say that I hadn’t travelled that far so it didn’t signify a great deal. Nowadays, I’ve been to a lot of cities around the world and I stand by the sentiment. It may be cold and incredibly gloomy, but it’s highly atmospheric and ridiculously impressive; built for long, cold winters.

Winding close

Winding close

With a few hours to explore, we stuck to the Old Town, the oldest parts of which (within the castle) date back almost 1000 years, while the area has a recorded history dating back to Roman times. In the summer, particularly during the Festival – or the rambling amalgamation of many festivals at the same time and in the same place – the city is a riot of colour and sound. In the winter, the city is a riot of grey. I could describe it as a stunning vision in monochrome.

The Royal Mile comprises a number of churches and dark, winding alleys which conceal numerous stories. There are a number of guided walks you can go on to discover the stories, or you can resort to the internet, where organisations like Edinburgh World Heritage have provided maps and even podcasts about areas of interest.

The best thing about exploring Edinburgh on a drizzly January day is that it shows off the architecture at its lowering best. Setting out from the station end of Princes street, we went up into the Old Town via The Mound to maximise the views.

St Giles' Cathedral on the Royal Mile

St Giles’ Cathedral on the Royal Mile

We described a looping figure-of-eight trail up to the castle, down to the World’s End, along the Cowgate, through the Grassmarket, up past Greyfriars Bobby with his golden nose, past the ‘home of Harry Potter’ the Elephant House – which was sadly too full to be our lunch stop – and the National Musuem of Scotland, and eventually back down to the National Gallery building and the bonny christmas markets in Princes Street Gardens.

By this time, days being as short as they are in early January, it was already growing dark, rendering further sightseeing less than satisfactory. The warm glow of the lights from the funfair and the markets, and from behind the stony facades of the buildings of the New Town is a sight worth seeing in itself, but preferably from the warmth of a pub.

Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Thing 2 ~ Chester (England)

When in England, walled cities are a favoured jaunt. Some of my favourite ignored-but-never-removed-from-statute legal gems involve walled cities. I’m pretty sure that if you hear a Scotsman being rude about the queen within the walls of York, you can shoot him dead with a crossbow. I’m fairly certain there’s something similar about Welshmen and Chester, which is within spitting distance of the Welsh border.

Cheshire cat

Cheshire cat

Chester is another city which has thrived since Roman times, and the current entrances to the walled town still follow the Roman plan, albeit with a number of major differences, such as the racecourse which sits to one side of the Water gate, which used to be a port entrance from the river Dee, but which was diverted in the 18th century, leaving the area by the walls silted up and grown over.

A walk around the city walls passed a pleasant hour or so and took us past the castle, the Roman Gardens and baths, past a legion of Roman Centurions marching in formation (a school excursion, the legion were about eight years old, but in full voice call-and-response with their battle-clad teacher / leader), and round to the Eastgate, the original entrance to the city, and the famous Eastgate clock, an elaborate affair erected to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

The main shopping street, which boasts such delights as bars in medieval crypts, is worth a wander, but the best stop for me was the ancient cathedral. I’m not religious but I always enjoy a wander around a good place of worship of any denomination, and this was enjoyable for a number of reasons, aesthetic and historic. I spent an hour browsing and could happily have spent longer.

The building has been built in fits and starts since the 11th century, although records show it has been a place of worship in some form or other since Roman times. This has lead to a fascinating labyrinthine structure, with hidden chapels and twisting tower stairways. The earliest extant part dates from 907AD, although one part houses Roman columns which enterprising monks in the 11th century recycled into the building works.

Thing 3 ~ Conwy (Wales)

A short hop down the A55 brings you into north Wales and along to Conwy, home to one of my favourite castles. Again, that’s quite a claim as this is a land of many castles, a great number of them pretty impressive. This one, again dating back many centuries (constructed between 1283 and 1289) is a very castly-looking castle, as castles go. You can easily imagine knights and peasants, kings and barons, dungeons and Jon Snow… damn, distracted again.

castle walls

castle walls

Built as part of a network of castles constructed by Edward I in his campaign to conquer Wales, it withstood sieges and harboured Kings and leaders from both Wales and England over the centuries. This still didn’t explain why it looked like a castle from a fairy tale, so I dug a bit further (yes, beyond Wikipedia – I pushed the boat out for this post) and from what I can tell it seems to have been a propaganda operation as much as a defensive installation (castlewales.com). In building these huge castles and the walls which encompass the rest of the town of Conwy, Edward was making sure the peasants didn’t feel inclined to revolt. After all, no one wants to see revolting peasants.

For once, the weather was in our favour and we got crisp, clear winter sun to enjoy the castle and the surrounding town and river. The joy of the castle is that so much of it is well-preserved that you can spend hours scrambling up winding stairways to the tops of the turrets, walking the battlements, marvelling at the fireplaces in the walls high above your head, where wooden floors would once have sustained medieval banquets, and staring up and down the insides of towers imagining the Unspeakable Acts and Dastardly Deeds that have taken place within.

After a lovely cream tea, it was time to spend the twilight hour walking the town walls to get a good view of the town and castle by night, or at least by dusk. I’d definitely recommend a summer visit, but this winter stop had its own charm, too.

I’ve included some photos from other sites of historic interest on my photo blog, which I’ll be updating with more visuals and less verbals. What’s your favourite historic site? Where’s your favourite place to visit in the winter?

Eastgate clock

Conwy castle - Outer Ward

Conwy castle – Outer Ward

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Angie
    Jan 16, 2016 @ 21:43:43

    Castles are so cool! I do love seeing really old stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. nikki max chapel
    Jan 16, 2016 @ 03:15:35

    Hello chica! good to see your piost read it on the way to work and really cheered me up to know you are both ok and still soaking up life… x

    Like

    Reply

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