>Why you should go to Knaresborough and see the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag

>While I was in England this summer, I took a weekend to see my good friend E. in the Leeds area. She asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “Let’s go to that adorable town, Knaresborough, that I keep seeing from the train on the way to York.” (Note: that’s on the line to and from Ilkley, which is the line my friend is on, so I’ve ridden that route a couple of times before or after visiting her and also going to York for various reasons.) And she said she hadn’t been there since she was a kid and would love to go back, so go we did. And it turned out to be the *perfect* place to have a picnic lunch and spend an intermittently sunny and pleasant English Sunday with a friend and her three-year-old little girl, as well as a place of interest to medievalists in the area temporarily or permanently (I’m looking at you, TO’D!), as well as anyone else who’s looking to do something in Yorkshire and has visited all the usual suspects.

First of all, you might be wondering what it was I could see from the train that so delighted me. Well, first of all, let me give you a view of where the train passes through. The following picture is one I stitched together from three or four other photos and is taken from the edge of the castle and its gardens high on the cliff side (click to “embiggen,” and it won’t look so fuzzy, though you will still see where I stitched it together):
So, you’re traveling through the rolling hills and flatter fields of West Yorkshire when all of sudden you’re on this lovely 19th century bridge (which is better appreciated here than on the bridge, of course) with a town opening up not only in front of you, but above and below you, too. (Btw, in the big version, if you look closely on the horizon on the left, you’ll see the house that I will someday make mine. If I win the lottery, that is.) Here are some more pictures of the part of the town on the terraced cliff side and below, including one when the sun was brighter, and one of “The Old Mill House” (now a private residence):


Now, the center of town and its high street is actually on the plain above the river. I should’ve taken more pictures, because it’s pretty exceptionally cute, even by cute English town standards. But here’s a picture of the statue honoring the Historical Town Character, Blind Jack, who was a surveyor, bridgebuilder, and roadmaker despite being blind — hence his surveyor’s wheel in the statue:


His *actual* surveyor’s wheel is in the town museum, the Courthouse Museum (on the castle grounds), which is actually quite a good local history museum if you can ignore the god-awful misinformation about the Middle Ages in the kid’s hands-on exhibit (though there are fun costumes to try on!). The stuff about the Middle Ages in the *actual* museum, where the old stuff is — at least what I saw in the limited time before the three-year-old got impatient — was quite good. I wonder if part of what made it interesting both to me and to the town that keeps it up was that this seemingly little, out of the way town often played a part in national history, especially in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. (Here‘s the Wikipedia overview, but you can read more about the castle and its history here at Knaresborough Online.)

I don’t have a whole lot of pictures of the castle because there’s not a lot of it left. It’s been reduced to little more than Romantic-lite garden ornament, having been ordered destroyed by Parliament in 1646 (*shakes fist*)–though the tower was kept intact as a prison, and another part used as a courthouse (hence the Courthouse Museum). Here’s what’s left of the East gate:

And here’s a bit of the castle proper:


There’s enough left that you can climb up part of it (where I took the above picture) and climb down into the “dungeon” (uh, it’s just the undercroft), but it’s not so challenging that our three-year-old companion couldn’t do it. There was some more silly signage in the castle, including one about what was obviously a medieval-era coffin (which looked like the one on this site) that said something like, “This could be a coffin — it’s shaped like a body — but if it is, where has the body gone?!” Um, to the charnel house so they could reuse the stone? That’s one possibility, anyway. But hey, the views are lovely, and the garden/park that the castle grounds have been turned into included a mini-golf/pitch-and-putt area, and who doesn’t love mini-golf?! And when we were leaving at the end of the day, a brass band was giving a concert in front of the tower — lovely!

But the highlight of *my* day, anyway, was the visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, including the walk there. It’s a *fantastic* surviving example of late medieval lay devotion and its survival, especially given it’s a Marian shrine, is all the more surprising given the destruction of the Trinitarian Friars’ abbey down the road during and subsequent to the dissolution.

The way to the chapel, along Abbey Road (no, not that one) is a lovely walk and there were plenty of other people making it — mostly locals from Knaresborough and the next village over, out enjoying a beautiful summer Sunday — but it gave me some serious real estate envy. It’s clear Knareborough is pretty prosperous and that it takes a lot of money to live along the river. The first clue? The Porsche parked outside of this cottage:


I don’t need the Porsche (not pictured) — just let me have the cottage, please. Or, even though it’s not really my style, I’ll take this home with the river-front dock:


I didn’t get a picture of the following, but a number of the houses with fronts facing the road and backing up to the river had planters out front that were clearly made from reclaimed stone from the abbey. Some might have been troughs of some sort, but judging from the carvings, I’m pretty sure these were more coffins! But if so, where had the bodies gone?! Te-hee!

There’s also a posh-looking little gentleman’s farm, with these adorable heritage hogs and a marvelous wood pile outside of its wattle and daub walls:


And this to-die-for antiques and book shop:


Or this inn along the river, perfect for the English version of Lorelai Gilmore:


And, of course, there’s the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag itself — which, by the way, is still used as a shrine to the Virgin Mary (even *more* remarkable in modern England, I’d say). I could never get a picture of the outside of it without someone in it — not to mention the ugly plastic chairs — so this will have to do:


As the historical records indicate, it was built by John the Mason in 1408, and as you can see, he gave it elements of a proper, full-sized church, including a glass window in the style of a stained-glass one (though not actually stained). Yes, I’ll get to that weird knight figure in a minute, but first here’s a picture of more of John’s details, including the “vaulted ceiling” complete with “roof bosses”:


And there’s this marvelous little face. What is it?


There’s an altar, too, in this 10-foot-square space. The statue on top of it is a later addition, the original presumably destroyed by the iconoclastic Parliamentarians iconoclasts of some sort:


Now back to that knight outside. Here’s a closer look:


The brochure I bought says that there’s no record of it being carved at the time John the Mason got the permit to carve the chapel, but then says there’s no reason not to believe it’s as old as the chapel. Really? My friend thought the face looked too “modern.” I think the mustache looks more 19th century that medieval, but dating by style is a tricky thing. More important, the carving doesn’t look worn away enough to be as old as the rest. Look at that weird little face again that I showed you above and how worn *it* is. Would the knight be as worn or even *more* worn, considering it’s outside? And why would John the Mason carve a knight? What do you think?

Anyway, I really recommend a trip to Knaresborough — especially in fine weather — if you have the time, opportunity, and inclination. My only regret is that we didn’t have time for the Hermitage of Robert of Knaresborough — the three-year-old could only take so much — but then again, I think the Lady of the Crag is more interesting, given that it’s surviving evidence of the intensity of lay devotion.

And let me leave you with one last picture just for the heck of it (it didn’t really fit into the narrative). Be sure to click on the picture to read the name of these “holiday cabins” and then marvel at how *wrong* that sounds!

>Back from the UK with visions of food dancing my head

>In past summers I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, but this year I went there only for a week — totally personal, too, not professional — and I’m actually looking forward to a summer of reading, thinking, and writing in my own home. And in the next post, I’ll have a research-related query for you all. But first, an update.

Bullock and I are just now back from our trip to the north of England where, as many of my Facebook friends already know, I attended a good friend’s wedding in a borrowed dress and shoes (and no makeup, and unwashed hair!) because my luggage didn’t get there in time. The fact that there was an attendee who lived locally and who had an extra dress in roughly my size was nothing short of miraculous. Otherwise, I might have gone to the wedding in the t-shirt and chinos I’d been wearing for about 36 hours straight. And not just any chinos, but coffee-stained chinos, the result of the flight attendant having spilled coffee all over me on the flight there. But it all worked out, and I actually liked the borrowed dress better than my own. England has many more cute dress options that the States, even in the English cities that are more or less the equivalent of Rust Belt City.

Speaking of which, I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but much of the north of England — especially Lancashire and Yorkshire — have a lot in common with the upper Midwest. It’s full of former industrial cities that hit hard times in the last few decades but are experiencing some renaissance now in the creative and cultural classes (think Chicago or Cleveland or even Pittsburg; and then Manchester and Leeds); the people are friendly, unsnobby, and hospitable; there are large Muslim populations in Dearborn, MI, and Bradford and Leeds; there’s great Middle Eastern and Pakistani food to be had; and there is much beer drunk and much cheese eaten. No wonder I feel so much more at home in the north than in the south of England. Of course there are less savory similarities, too — Yorkshire just elected a member of the British Nationalist Party to the European Parliament and Michigan is also frequently known as Militia-gan.

But one thing every city (and sometimes the towns and villages) in the north of England has that is missing in Rust Belt City is a slew of restaurants doing interesting and inventive things or just doing traditional dishes exceptionally well. The fact that the UK is having a cuisine renaissance is now practically common knowledge, and I’ve been noticing it and commenting on it for at least the last 10 years. In the north, especially, I’ve had amazingly good traditional, local food, often at small hotel restaurants and local pubs off the beaten tourist path. This trip I had tender, slips-off-the-bone-with-a-fork lamb at The Peasehill House Hotel Restaurant in Rawdon (a suburban village near the Leeds/Bradford airport); rich, tender duck confit salad at The Malt in Burley-in-Wharfedale (at the wedding reception); sweet and creamy mussels at Delrio’s in York; mouth wateringly rich pork belly at the Hotel du Vin Bistro in York; and a lovely steak with a crunchy duck egg on top (the egg had been dropped into the fryer so that the whites fried up in the shape of wings, but the white stayed runny inside — you wouldn’t believe how good runny egg on steak is!) and a “trifle” of asparagus (a foam with crunchy peas in it) at J. Baker’s Bistro Moderne in York.

But the best of all dinners was one I booked us for our last night. We were staying at the Crowne Plaza Manchester Airport (NOT recommended — boo!) for our morning flight, so I did a bit of hunting on the internet to find an interesting and fine restaurant in the general vicinity. I finally decided on The Alderley at the the Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire, about 7 miles southeast of the airport, whose online menu suggested that they did interesting interpretations of traditional dishes, using mostly locally sourced ingredients. (If you’re ever inclined to do the same — though hopefully from one of the other airport hotels, NOT the icky Crowne Plaza — I recommend taking the train from the Manchester Airport to Alderley Edge and walking through the posh and charming village to the restaurant, then taking a taxi back, since the trains stop running back to the airport at about 10 — the taxi is about 15GBP and the restaurant will call it for you. We chickened out and taxied both ways, because we weren’t sure what the walk from the station looked like, which really was a waste of money.)

Anyway, we were not disappointed. First of all, it was simply a lovely dining *experience*, the kind we can’t get at all around here. Our coats were taken and we were first seated in the bar, where drink orders were taken and we were given a complimentary plate of amuse-bouche to go with the drinks. Then we were brought the menus, and the head waiter/maitre-d’ (it was a small wait staff of three who shared tasks, but it clear who the top guy was) let us take our time as we hemmed and hawed over whether to go with the three course prix fixe menu, or a la carte, or go for the 6 course tasting menu. (There was little overlap between the three and it all looked SO good.) In the end we went a la carte because those were the dishes that excited us the most. (And here, I should say, if you go there and order what we did — cocktails, inexpensive house bottle of wine, bottle of water, three courses each, plus coffee and petit fours — it will cost you about 150GBP. It will cost more if you go off the house wine list (which is still quite nice, btw) — that’s where we cut a little cost because we not as much oenophiles as we are foodies. We knew we were splurging, but given the level of service and the wonderful food — and given how much we like food — it was worth it for us.)

And then once we’d ordered and we seated at our table, we had a leisurely dinner, perfectly paced by the attentive but unobstrusive staff, who had the rhythms of their restaurant down perfectly. And the food! Oh. My. God. The food! I really should’ve taken pictures, because it was all so beautiful on the plate, and just as rapture-inducing in the mouth. (You can see what I mean if you go to the website; you can also see the whole current menu there.) Just to give you an idea, for our entrees, I had the “Saddle of Roe Deer, Venison Hash, Poached Cherries, Pickled Sloe Gin” and Bullock had “Cheshire Spring Lamb, Three Ways with ‘Shepherd’s Pie,’ Pickled Beetroot and Leeks.” The “Shepherd’s Pie” is in quotation marks for a reason — not because of random quotation mark abuse — because it was a miniature, almost bit-sized “pie” with a tiny little tart shell, a bite sized piece of lamb, and a dollop of mashed potato on top. (And then there were the other ways his lamb was prepared — a lovely variety of miniature traditional lamb dishes.) And the pickled stuff was in the form of artfully sliced jellies that added color as well as taste to the plate. My plate, with its accompanying spring carrots and green onions looked liked modernist art, like a Mondrian done in triangles instead of squares and rectangles, but topped by the perfectly bite-sized array of oval slices of roe deer and the little ovals of the venison hash. And oh, was it good. The flavors seem kind of busy in my description — so many things on a plate — but it was all laid out so you could have a bit of saddle of deer with a cherry, or the hash with a bite of the sloe gin and a carrot.

I know for some people this might seem all too fussy, but I really appreciated the care, the craft, the art, and the thought in it all. I like the way it appeals to the eye as well as the nose and the tongue. I like the fact that it reminds me of other arts while I’m enjoying it. In fact, I think that’s what characterizes this kind of cuisine — it’s food for thinking about as well as tasting. Or thinking about *while* tasting. And given the leisurely pace of the experience you have time to do that, to savor, to think, to discuss, to ruminate (well, hopefully not literally!). And I also like that with three courses, plus amuse-bouche and petit fours, I didn’t feel horribly stuffed. I like the fact that I get to try all sorts of different flavors (and the appetizers and desserts were equally abundant in tastes) without over-eating. And alas, I still haven’t found anything quite like this in and around Rust Belt City. There’s an award-winning regional restaurant in the city 2 hours away from here that we like very much, but it requires an overnight stay, since a 4 hour round-trip drive is too much for one night. But this academic year Bullock and I have been quite spoiled with our trip to Paris and our trip to England, and now I fear we’ll feel the lack of such restaurants even more. Sigh.

We also did all the touristy things one does in York and Leeds — the Minster, the Yorkshire Museum, the Jorvik Viking Center, the Royal Armouries, etc., etc. — and had a fun time at my friend E’s easy-going, relaxed wedding and reception (once the dress issue was sorted out, anyway!). I also recommend the Hotel du Vin in York, if you can get a good discout rate. It was by far the most comfortable and modern hotel we stayed in (fantastic hurricane shower head! wonderful bed! and everything smells so good!), and it’s only a 10 minute walk from the train station, as well as from Mickelgate Bar and the medieval part of the city.

Oh, and also, having learned about Eric Bloodaxe in all the York Viking-related museums, Bullock now wants to be known as Bloodaxe on the blog. But I thought that might be confusing for readers who pop in now and then. I suppose I could just attach the Viking nickname to the Western pseudonyn, like so: Bullock-Bloodaxe (with or without the hyphen). What do you think?

And yes, I will have some pictures, once I upload them from my memory card, and once Bullock gives me copies of his much better ones. I have a post brewing about one in particular. More later.

>Medieval waste management in pictures

>I imagine that when most people who are not medievalists think of sewage in the Middle Ages (er, if they do at all), they think of the line about one minute into this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here!”

But medieval structures, especially the expensively built ones, had some pretty impressive systems for their waste management. Here, let me show you a couple of examples.

The first set of pictures is once again from the castle Carreg Cennen in Wales. First, you see a castle privy, minus the wooden seat that would have provided a slightly more comfortable place to rest one’s bottom than what remains of the stone edifice:


If you’re wondering what those white, glowing spaces on the right are, either something happened in the data transfer to my hard drive and erased a portion of my picture (most of which I cropped out), or else this is an extra-special haunted loo. I like to think the latter is the case.

OK, so that’s the loo. But where does it go? Here’s my friend G. to demonstrate:


Here’s a closer look:


That’s right, G. is being a giant piece of sh*t. Heh heh.

Ahem.

In this castle the outlet seems to be in the outer yard. Let’s hope it was behind the horse stables or something, but it still means some poor guy was in charge of cleaning it up every so often. Ew. But the yard there slopes down towards the cliff side, so maybe the poor sap just needed to wash it downhill with a bucket.

Meanwhile, the Cistercian monks at Kirkstall Abbey, outside of Leeds, had a better system. And today’s museum curators know what will get the attention of kids and Dr. Virago — a monk on the loo! Look! —


Actually, technically he’s a lay brother, but whatever. “Monk on the loo” is a much funnier phrase (though not as funny as “monkey on the loo” would be.) And no, he’s not pooping on people’s heads. He’s on what would have been an upper floor. Where his waste goes is the clever part. The toilets in this dormitory for the lay brothers were constructed over a trench that ran between the walls. Here’s a picture of fragments of those walls which I borrowed from the Abbey web site:


That trench was fed by water from further up the hill (where the monks had a mill) and ran under the entire monastery complex. Here are a couple pictures of the now exposed trench:



Eventually the trench let out in the nearby River Aire, which I realize is not all that great, but I still find the system kind of fascinating. And hey, maybe it’s why the wild flowers it this final picture are so abundant!

>Random bullet points of Britain

>

  • On my friend’s A to Z map of Leeds and its environs, “built up” areas are shaded in pink, and any collection of three or more residences not belonging to the same farm counts as “built up,” even if everything around it is countryside. I find this charming.
  • While visiting said friend, I went for a couple of runs in her semi-suburban, semi-rural town. These runs included a loop around a “tarn” (which I find cool to say, even though it’s just a pond) and a pass by the end of the Leeds/Bradford airport’s runway. Just as I was going by, a plane came in for a landing. Don’t worry though — Yorkshire is a hilly place, and the runway was actually up above me. I thought it was kind of sublime watching that plane fly so close overhead. The sheep across the road were unimpressed, however.
  • We went for a visit to Harewood House, and I wondered, ‘How did they manicure all that lawn in the 18th and 19th centuries? Would sheep alone do the trick?’
  • There are three libraries in Harewood and I want them all — especially the one with the secret doors.
  • Something I learned: the Leeds to London/London to Leeds train is always crowded.
  • Something I learned about myself: I don’t get the point of Big Brother. But I *really* don’t get the point of Big Brother’s Little Brother. A commentary show on a reality show? WTF?
  • I cannot find my way around the maze of where I’m staying and it’s just one big building built around a courtyard. I have to figure it out tomorrow or it will drive me nuts.
  • There is an angry, or at least irritated, French woman in the room next to me. She’s on the phone chattering away in irritation.
  • I heard 8 different languages being spoken in the Tesco across from the Russell Square Tube station, and then I stopped counting. For the record: English, Spanish, French, German, something Middle Eastern which I’m unable to specify, Cantonese, Italian, and something I couldn’t place at all.
  • Weirdly, I could understand the woman speaking Spanish in Tesco better than I can understand my French neighbor, and I’ve had many more years of French. Hmm.
  • There’s an old man in a flat across from where I’m staying who seems to spend all of his time watching the world go by on the street below. I don’t have a view of this from my room — I look onto a lovely interior garden — but I saw him when I was roaming the halls trying to figure out which toilets and showers were closest to me. If I see him again, I’ll try to snap a picture.
  • I have not changed the time on my computer. It’s still in Rust Belt time. I think perhaps I should change it, eh?

That’s it for now. Must unpack!