South Riding

When I’d though of visiting Yorkshire I originally hadn’t intended to stay at Scarborough (it had only emerged as a compromise location between Whitby and Beverley) but it didn’t take very long walking along the seafront there to be glad that I had. The bay curves round dramatically from Cuthbert Broderick’s Grand Hotel over to the ruins of the Castle. I walk for a while around the harbour before going to visit Anne Bronte’s grave; as far as I can tell the local economy seems to rely on the sale of yarn, e-cigarettes and casinos. I’m also amused to notice the presence of an old police phone box on the seafront. The following day I decide to visit Whitby. The Abbey is as dramatic as one would expect, easily being the first thing you can see of the town from several miles away and standing out on top of the cliffs above the town and sea. I then walk down a flight of steps to the town from St Mary’s churchyard, walking out to the harbour and up the opposing cliff to the whale arch and statue of Captain Cook. Returning to the church, I spend a while looking at the grey tombstone surrounded by cow parsley flowers and look inside at the jumble of box pews and hearing pipes. Later that day, we visit the quiet village of Lastingham, where sheep are grazing in the churchyard. Inside, I’m struck by the image of Lichfield Cathedral on a stained glass image of St Chad, but the Romanesque crypt remains the most impressive aspect of the building.

Travelling south from Scarborough the following day,we visit Filey where the church also stands on a cliff but is quarantined from the town by a ravine spanned by an iron bridge. The interior is filled from medieval detail like a boy bishop sculpture and a leper window as well as stained glass by Kempe; the exterior has a number of elaborate crumbling monuments and a series of graves with ships depicted on them. Further south, I travel to Rudston and its famous monolith before arriving at Beverley. The cream coloured phone boxes are rather striking, albeit presumably preserved for nostalgia rather than practicality. I start off by visiting the Minster, the size of whose interior matches any cathedral before visiting the more idiosyncratic church of St Mary with its elephant misericords, astrological ceilings, rabbit gargoyles, green man misericords and gargoyle faces at the entrance. Lastly, I visit Howden Minster. The light is fading at this point and the ruins stand dark against the sky. The next day, I travel on to Haworth. I had been here before several years ago but was unable to resist the temptation to return. Today, the cramped graveyard has become a meadow in the summer light and after visiting the parsonage we walk down to see the steam trains in the valley below. Later, we move on to Saltaire and walk around the village, church, town hall (I like the ‘Don’t tell Titus’ pubs) and the factories. The main factory has been re-used as an art gallery, with a number of Hockney paintings and Chinese vases. We have a meal that evening at Norse in Harrogate, a restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in Shoreditch with tapas style meals containing ingredients like goat and samphire.

The following day is given up to visiting York Minster, with its mixture of medieval stained glass, medieval, baroque and Victorian monuments and astronomical clock. I find myself liking it a lot more than Canterbury cathedral. York itself with the river flowing through it reminds me a lot of Oxford, with medieval gothic buildings built out of pale stone. I visit a lot of the churches like St Michael Belfrey, Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, St Michael, Spurriergate, All Saints North Street, St Martin Coney Street, St Winifrid and All Saints, Pavement as well as the arts centre at St Mary, Castlegate. Finally, I also visit Clifford’s tower. The following day I visit Rievalux Abbey as well as the temples on the terrace that overlooks it before passing onto Castle Howard. I enjoy the collection of Roman and Egyptian statues and Burne Jones stained glass at Castle Howard; even beyond its use as a film location the reconstruction of the interior after the fire and the inclusion of modern murals of destroyed Vanbrugh buildings does rather make the place feel like a film set. If an Italianate building like Blenheim seems incongruous in Oxfordshire then how much more incongruous the dome of Castle Howard seems along with its assortment of classical follies in the Yorkshire countryside. The following day I visit the ruins at Fountains Abbey; its an odd experience since none of the ruins I’m familiar with retain any degree of structural integrity; but the tower still stands at Fountains and many of the buildings retain their ceilings. I avoid a swarm of bees and walk around some of the follies on the estate before visiting the church at Studley Royal; in contrast to the ruins it stands as sensuous riot, with every inch of its surface covered in decoration, from stained glass of Biblical scenes through to the tiling and the parrots nestling in the choir foliage. Later that day, we visit Ripon and note the rather asymmetrical interior that has clearly evolved rather than being designed; the statues of the Kings have been painted (rather European than British?), a glowing lit hand appears above a choir whose misericords range from elephants to centaurs and dragons. Lastly, I visit the church at Skelton with its dog gargoyles and the devil’s arrow megaliths.

The next day I visit Selby where the Norman arches and columns rather remind me of Durham; I particularly like the tree of Jesse window. Later that day, I visit Fairfax house in York, with its stucco ceilings, Chinoiserie and Chippendale furniture. I also visit the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and the old cold war bunker (a distressingly amateurish affair that wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in a nuclear attack). The last place I visit is the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. The gallery occupies a beautiful site by the river with a view of the cathedral and the bridge chantry from its windows. During my visit there are also works by Paolozzi and Hamilton in addition to a collection of Hepworth’s sculptures and casts; it’s an impressive collection. I briefly walk into Wakefield and am rather saddened by the collection of charity shops.

Back down south, I attend a Jordi Savall concert at the Sam Wannamaker playhouse. Attending a concert only list by candlelight rather makes me think of Tanizaki’s Praise of Shadows; the small size of the venue also lends itself to intimate performances with only two players. At times, Savall scales ascend beyond the range of hearing and at other times he uses his viola as a percussion instrument making for a fascinating performance. A few weeks later, I go for a walk at Wittenham Clumps, the subject of many Paul Nash paintings. I walk up to the two mounds and looking at the rotting carcass of a tree with 18th century poetry engraved on it before walking to the nearby arboretum. Arranged in a spiral this collects species native to Oxfordshire; Rowan, Alder, Rowan, Oak, Ash and so on.

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