Barton Mills and environs Wednesday, April 8, to Friday, April 10 If anyone knows the lyrics to “Camelot”, you’ll understand why I use this excerpt to introduce our time with our friends Maya (below with fellow visitor Noodles) and Hugo (in the Spring sunshine) Morriss. On Wednesday, April 8th, we took the train to Kennett to be met by Hugo and whisked away to The Dhoon, their country home in Barton Mills. (In asking how the house name came about, they briefly mentioned that previous owner Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, had named this Suffolk country retreat and used to come here from 1921 until his death in 1955.) Immediately we immersed ourselves into the lovely indulgence of a springtime stay with friends who welcomed us with sumptuous meals, a lovely room,
I had first met them in northern Scotland, January 2001, at a birthday party held by Marci and Joanna, the latter a first cousin of Hugo. Later we caught up with them again in London, November 2002, at another event staged by Joanna. Besides these connections there is another link due to Maya being a fellow Mainiac whose family lived around Mount Desert for years. Yet, even if one had just met this couple, you would be embraced by their genuine hospitality. And, we were the lucky ones to find ourselves in their home.
After a delicious dinner we headed to bed only to be awoken by the lovely fragrance of sizzling bacon. Downstairs we found Hugo at a huge, old-fashioned oil stove frying up breakfast. Maya’s homemade marmalade (and Hugo’s bobbing ducky tea infuser) along with poached eggs, toast and good java ensured we wouldn’t be touring on empty stomachs. Hugo then shepherded Max and me to his car where we set off for Cambridge where we’d spend the day exploring some of this city’s historic sites. Our initial destination was the Scott Research Institute’s Polar Museum. A boating friend on our pontoon had mentioned her exploration of this gem, and it was one Hugo had visited some years ago. The three us entered this small museum only to be captivated by the large amount of information available via displays and accompanying audio guide. Both North and South Pole explorers were examined, and I won’t go into all of their exploits here. Max gravitated towards one of his inspirations, Ernest Shackleton. Here he saw the sextant and journals from the navigator of that 1915 expedition, Frank Worsley.
For those of you who haven’t had the chance to read the story of Shackleton’s ENDURANCE expedition, do so. You couldn’t make that stuff up.
We also saw artifacts from Robert Scott’s doomed TERRA NOVA expedition (1910-13), including the black flag marking the Norwegian Roald Amundsen’s December 4, 1911, arrival at the South Pole (imagine how you’d feel seeing that in the distance realizing you weren’t first in this historic race)… and, the abandoned sleeping bag of Lawence Oates, who with Scott, Henry Bowers and Edmund Wilson, died on their return from the North Pole. They were only 35 days behind Amundsen.
Not wanting to be a burden, the ailing Oates left his tent to walk into a blizzard in spite of pleas by his fellow explorers. (His sleeping bag is slit open so he could keep his frostbitten leg out of the warmth; it would hurt too much to have it thaw.) Recently discovered photographs from Scott’s expeditions were on display. Looking at the stark and magnificent beauty of this perilous continent, I could understand the magnetic pull. Yet, the sacrifices made were more haunting. Sketches of the terrain by Wilson illustrates the scientific aspect of Scott’s TERRA NOVA expedition. Here, Scott took a photo of Wilson as he took pencil to paper. On one of the audios there was a reading of Wilson’s letter to Oates mother testifying to Oates’ bravery. Also on display was the poignant farewell letter Wilson wrote to his own parents after it was clear he, too, would not survive the Polar journey.
A year earlier, Wilson had figured prominently in another mind-boggling event when he, Henry Bowers and Apsely Cherry-Garrard made a 120-mile round trip in the dead of the Antarctic winter (in complete darkness and temperatures I can’t even begin to imagine) recovering some Emperor penguin eggs. This feat is immortalized in Cherry-Gerrard’s book The Worst Journey in the World (1922). Wilson thought this flightless bird’s egg would prove the evolutionary chain between birds and man. The northern hemisphere explorations covered the many attempts to reach that Pole as well as traverse the Northwest passage, one currently becoming more and more feasible thanks to global climate change. Those from Maine who know Eagle Island may be familiar with Robert Peary’s claim of reaching it on April 6, 1909, as well as the tragic Franklin expedition. One of the many interesting items was a rescue fox collar, and the message cylinders used by explorers to protect their information from the elements. After an hour or so looking at the display of the ‘Heroic Age’ of polar exploration, I couldn’t agree more hardily with Cherry-Gerrard’s description: “Polar Exploration is at once the cleanest and the most isolated way of having a bad time that has ever been devised.” Fortunately we weren’t on either pole, which meant we found ourselves at a wonderful restaurant Hugo had booked. Fortified by some Scottish seafood and libations we walked across the street to another Cambridge landmark, the Fitzwilliam Museum. The IV Viscount of Fitzwilliam of Merrion bequeathed his collection and library in 1816 to University of Cambridge. He thoughtfully also included funds to house them hence this museum, which opened in 1848.
In addition to artwork by El Greco and Picasso, we also saw some special exhibits. One was of the two bronzes recently attributed to Michelangelo and, the “Treasured Possessions from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment” featuring 300 items representing the purchases by European shoppers during that time, from exquisite pocket watches to gold snuff boxes to high-heeled shoes.
We left this museum knowing it was another place we’d like to return and headed off to the King’s College campus, one of two royal and religious foundations (the other is Eton College) begun by the young King Henry VI (1421-71) in 1441. These two schools would each enroll a maximum of 70 students from poor backgrounds, with those from Eton guaranteed acceptance to King’s. Nice scholarships way back when. Once there we strolled into another Cambridge showpiece, the King’s Chapel. The chapel was begun by that same king in 1446 and later renovated by his descendants, one being Henry VII. We saw the banded iron chest from which had carried 5,000 GBP (worth roughly $4 million in today’s currency) compliments of Henry VII for completion of the chapel. It’s a stunning example of Gothic (perpendicular) architecture and features the largest fan vault in the world. Your eyes can’t help but float upwards to gaze at the soaring height banded by huge stained glass windows. This chapel’s poster explanations of ‘who was who’ and ‘what happened way back when’ cleared up some of my confusion regarding England’s medieval royal family and the Wars of the Roses 1455-85 [Red rose stood for the Lancasters, white for the Yorks, with both of these families being descendants of Edward III (1312-77)]. A diagram (god bless pictographs) showed that Henry VI descended from the Lancasters whereas Richard III was a York. FYI: Richard III is the guy who reputedly murdered his two nephews, one who was briefly King Edward V. Richard III, also, was the king whose bones found under a car park were recently reburied in Leicester Chapel in March of this year (he died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth). Henry VI was a pious king and not the best. However, it was in the Tudor’s best interests to build the VI up as a saint while maligning Richard III (politicking never changes). Some people say even Shakespeare got into slinging mud on Richard III.
This King’s Chapel at King’s College is beautiful with its light-filled, stained glass windows. Not being a huge structure, you can absorb the architecture by simply walking down the long nave, through the wooden screen donated by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn between 1433 and 1436 to the choir stalls (we found his initials but not hers)… and into the choir area on the other side. We ducked into several small chapels along the sides with more examples of stained glass including the Tudor red rose and fleur de lis representing their French rule…
and a memorial to King’s College alumna killed in WW I, one being the poet Rupert Brooke. Exiting we walked down towards the river Cam to which King’s College and other colleges back up. We saw many punters out, both guides as well as families who were trying their hand at this ancient boating technique of poling up or down a river. Throughout Cambridge we saw evidence of a busy college community…
a pub named the same as the good friends (Colleen, Billy, Mary Lee to name a few) frequent Friday nights in Portland…
The next morning greeted us with an even warmer day with Maya and Hugo’s garden smelling of fragrant spring. Do you know how wonderful it is to be amidst all this flora when one’s view has been of an industrial marina? It was heaven scent. Good bye fall :)
Hugo, Max and I set off again only this time to Ely Cathedral. Once surrounded by marshes and later drained by Charles II (1630-85) to form extremely fertile farmland, this cathedral is often called ‘Ship of the Fen’. This cathedral was sited on an ancient Christian community site founded by Queen and Saint Etheldreda in 673 C.E. After two marriages, neither of which she deigned to consummate, she retired to Isle of Ely (so called due to the water being filled with eels) and built a Christian community. St. Audrey (shortened from ‘St. Etheldreda’ because her name was a mouthful) died in 679 from a neck tumor reputedly from her vanity of wearing necklaces in her youth. The fairs held in the town sold cheap necklaces in her honor, thus, the descriptor ‘tawdry’ was coined. Not the best way to be remembered. Supposedly, when her body was brought into the church in 695 the tumor (actually from the bubonic plague) was healed and the linens clean.
Her community thrived over the next 200 years, becoming one of the richest abbeys in England until destroyed by Danes. In 970 it was resurrected as a Benedictine monastery. Then, in 1081 work began to convert the original building into a cathedral. In 1322 one of the stone towers fell, and work began in the same year to replace it, this time out of wood, resulting in the Ely Octagon completed in 1342.
Keep in mind it was a guessing game as to how the structure would stay in place. As the guide told us, this was before the time of measuring the exact forces on structures. Luckily, it worked.
When gazing at the next group of photographs just imagine looking up and seeing this painted ceiling with the light splashing through. The guide was talking while I kept snapping due to the stained glass effect. The exact dates are known of these constructions because they were carefully chronicled throughout the years; and, unusually so, the actual names of those working on the wooden tower were known in addition to the master carpenter (in today’s world he/she would be considered an engineer who concentrated on wood construction), William Hurley, provided by the then King of England, Edward III. Due to the growing popularity of the cult of Virgin Mary the Lady Chapel was erected in the same time period and completed in 1349. This side building was also considered unique due to it being separated from the main cathedral building and was exceptionally wide. Similar to how the King’s Chapel educated me on the Wars of the Roses, this cathedral gave me the clearest example of Norman vs. Gothic architecture. A later renovation added the pointed arched windows of Gothic structures to the earlier rounded windows of the Norman period (remember William the Conqueror who came over from Normandy? This is from his time.)
The main building was renovated several times, the first due to that disastrous falling of the East tower, the next during Victorian times when two volunteers painted the wooden ceilings. Upon entering I was amazed at the length of it considering its overall size; and, I discovered it’s the longest nave in Europe measuring 565 feet from the west porch exterior to the eastern buttresses’ exterior.
One guide began our tour due to the original one being delayed due to a traffic jam. Both were informative but the latter, you felt, could go on for quite awhile. Our clue was his question ‘what time did you think you’d be leaving?’ Normally this could cause some nervousness on my part along with my feet turning sideways to inch out a door, but his knowledge of and excitement only meant we truly were taken back in time.
As we walked through this beautiful cathedral we also spotted some tombs of famous bishops. Both would have been folk I would have liked to have met: St. Hugh of Lincoln (Bishop of Lincoln 1186-1200) known for his kindness, good sense of humor, and the swan who followed him about. He was also able to tame temperamental kings, such as Henry II who sent Thomas Becket to his grave for misspeaking. Another favorite was Bishop Richard Redman (Bishop of Ely 1501-06) who, when traveling, would ask to have a bell rung so he could invite the poor to join him in a meal. His was the only tomb not relocated due to renovations or damaged. One of the most splendid examples of why this is a glorious place to visit is the Lady’s Chapel mentioned earlier. Here, there was a choir practicing for a concert later that day. Our guide said this chapel was often used by visiting choirs to record due to its beautiful acoustics, including an echo. I loved hearing the singing and music rolling out of the doors as we peeked in at the rehearsal. It also was one of the brightest church buildings from that time that I’d seen. (Not that I’ve seen a ton.) Unfortunately, all but a small portion of the stained glass had been smashed by Henry VII’is thugs during the reformation. They also managed to scrape off the beautifully painted murals and smash all the tiny heads off the statues recessed along the walls. Reminded me of the intolerance and destruction by other fanatics (ISIS for one) of other historical monuments. Some things never change. Oliver Cromwell also caused suffering during England’s Civil war 1642-51; but, since he’d moved to Ely in 1636, he and his soldiers didn’t do as much destruction as they easily could have. Hugo had mentioned one of the unique aspects of Ely Cathedral is the way it is still surrounded by large open spaces, and this greeted us as we exited. Ely also boasts the largest number of medieval buildings still in use.
Another wonderful lunch reserved by Hugo meant we walked outside the cathedral, through the green, and into an old fire engine house. We once again ate a delicious meal begun by some beer and wine, then left for our last exploration of the day, a neolithic flint-mining site. Grimes Graves is one of ten flint mines in England. Over 400 pits are found in this cleared area named Grim’s Graves by the Anglo-Saons. And, to this day we could see the pock-marked landscape where miners over 5,000 years ago picked flint out of the white chalk. Their tools were antlers and animal (I hope) shoulder-blades for picks and shovels. Used for axes, a highly prized tool, this jet-black flint was a valuable commodity traded up and down the British Isles. We were able to visit one pit and descended the 30 feet with our yellow miner hats. Not one of tunnels or height, I was thankful to climb down, peek about, then quickly return to the surface. With time for a tea prior to catching the train back to Ipswich, we stopped back at The Dhoon were we found Maya comfortably resting under the furry warmth of Treasure and Barry. As we said our good-byes we realized how much we were going to miss Maya and Hugo, and, yes Treasure and Barry. They had opened their home to two cruisers from Ipswich who definitely felt this spring week end could not have been spent in a more congenial spot.