Ruins of Yorkshire

 

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

Byland Abbey, West Front, 2010

The photo above, which I took during a visit in 2010, shows the still-impressive ruin of the West Front of Byland Abbey, in Yorkshire. Prior to its destruction, the most impressive feature of this facade would have been a huge rose window, the lower outline of which is still visible here. Apparently, that was the inspiration for a similar rose window in York Minster, which remains intact (although it narrowly escaped destruction in the 1984 fire, and required substantial renovation, as described here).

For my Yorkshire Day post this year, I wanted to draw attention once again to the remarkable assemblage of monastic ruins that exist in that county. There are, of course, also many military ruins, such as Scarborough Castle, but the religious buildings are perhaps less well-known.

Just to avoid any confusion regarding my intentions, I should make it clear again that I have no interest at all in religion. My interest in these buildings is and always has been architectural and historical.

I’ve mentioned my early experiences with these ruins in previous posts, and I must admit that I tended to take them for granted when growing up. I just assumed that there must be huge ruined churches lying around everywhere, and it was only later that I realized that this was a rare environment.

Illustrating the degree of integration of these ruins into the landscape, the photo below shows the modern remains of Byland Abbey’s gatehouse, the surviving arch of which stands over a public road.

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

Byland Abbey Gatehouse Ruin

A Long-Forgotten Social Disaster

The process by which all these huge religious institutions came to be abandoned and ruined is fairly well known, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which took place between 1536-40. The event occurred because King Henry VIII picked a fight with the Pope, over his desire to divorce one of his wives. The key to success, as he saw it, was to crush the power of the Catholic church in England. All the monasteries owed allegiance to the established church, so it seemed to him that abolishing them would not only be a way to reduce the church’s power, but also to grab the land and valuables owned by those institutions, and the income streams created by them.

As the extent of the remaining ruins suggest, the monasteries in Yorkshire formed a major part of the local economy and social organization, so their abolition and deliberate destruction must have been catastrophic. Although the King was able to seize the land and the monasteries’ treasures, his hoped-for income streams never materialized, because he had destroyed the organizations that were generating them! Henry sold off most of the seized land to his favored nobles, and then squandered the proceeds on his wars.

Rievaulx Abbey, also in Yorkshire, built one of the world’s first blast furnaces for iron, and it has been suggested that, if it had not been for the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Industrial Revolution would have begun in Britain a century before it actually did.

In State Care

Following the Dissolution, the institutions’ land and buildings passed into private hands, and stayed that way for centuries.

Many abandoned religious buildings that were close to settlements gradually disappeared, as they were stripped for building stone. It was probably the relative isolation of the Yorkshire abbeys that permitted the survival of significant portions of the structures.

At the start of the Twentieth Century, the British Government began to take an interest in preserving what was left of the ruins, and eventually took most of them into state ownership, by purchasing them from the private owners.

Fountains Abbey: a Spectacular Setting

While the ruins of Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys are impressive, perhaps the Yorkshire ruin with the most ideal landscape setting is Fountains Abbey.

The photo below shows the ruin of the church at Fountains, in its breathtaking setting in Studley Royal Park. This was taken during a visit in 1977, and the individuals in the foreground are my mother and her friend.

Fountains Abbey, 1977

Fountains Abbey, 1977

In those days, the visitors’ car park was at the Studley Tea Rooms, which necessitated quite a long (but pleasant) walk alongside the River Skell to the actual ruins. The modern car park is closer to the ruin.

Fountains was somewhat unusual in that it was not purchased by the Ministry of Works at the same time as most of the other sites. It remained in private hands until 1966, when it was bought by the County Council. In 1982, the estate was transferred to the National Trust, and is now maintained by English Heritage.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire, and if the weather is reasonable, then all these ruins are well worth a visit!

Happy Bastille Day 2018

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Chemins de fer du Midi, Bordeaux

Happy Bastille Day! This year, trying to avoid predictable views of Paris, I decided to post the photo above, which shows a fascinating map that still exists in the Great Hall of the main railway station in Bordeaux (Saint Jean). This huge wall plan was created by the Compagnie des Chemins de fer du Midi, presumably at the time of the station’s construction.

I took the photograph when Mary and I were passing through Bordeaux station in 2014, on our way from Paris to Saint Cyprien. We had just arrived from Paris via TGV, and we were changing trains for the TER service to our final destination.

The photo above doesn’t reveal that that afternoon was extremely hot, and only small parts of Bordeaux Station are air-conditioned (ironically, the area near the McDonalds restaurant)! Mary and I thus spent most of our time there trying to find places to keep cool, but even in those circumstances we didn’t consider the idea of eating at McDonalds.

Back to Paris

The photo below shows me in Paris Montparnasse Station, in front of the TGV that had just brought us back from Bordeaux on the return leg of our journey.

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

TGV and Me, Paris Montparnasse, 2014

In fact, the train route between Paris and Bordeaux has changed since we made our journey, because the LGV Sud Europe Atlantique high-speed line has been opened all the way through (as shown here). When we made our trip in 2014, we could only use the high-speed line from Paris to Tours, and then the train used the existing route to Bordeaux.

Historic Rail Maps Survive

The rail map in Bordeaux station immediately reminded me of the tile maps that England’s North Eastern Railway placed at most major stations on its network, the surviving examples of which were a regular sight when I was traveling in Yorkshire as a child.

The photo below shows the map at York Station, and was taken while I was changing trains there a few years ago.

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

North Eastern Railway tile map, York

There’s an additional modern notice at the right-hand side of the map, warning potential passengers that they can’t necessarily take a train to all the locations shown on the map!

In fact, there are a few locations on the NER map that you could never get to by rail, because the lines shown were never built. On the whole, though, the maps provide an impressive record of just how extensive the European rail network was at the end of the nineteenth century.

Fireworks from the Wine Train

Wine Train Dining Car with Mary

Wine Train Dining Car with Mary

For the Fourth of July this year, Mary and I decided to have dinner on the Napa Valley Wine Train once again. The photo above shows Mary in one of the train’s dining cars, just as it was getting dark and we were preparing to watch the firework display from the train.

The “Wine Train” is a tourist meal excursion that, since 1989, has operated from Napa to St. Helena and back on the tracks of the old Napa Valley Railroad. The line originally ran from Napa Junction to Calistoga, but had been cut back to St. Helena in 1960. In 1987, when the Southern Pacific Railroad decided to abandon the remaining tracks, a local business group stepped up to buy the line and operate it as a tourist railroad.

The Yountville Stop

Generally, the dinner trains run nightly up and down the line, but it’s simply a round trip with dinner, because you usually can’t disembark in St. Helena. Once a year, however, on the Fourth of July, the train makes an extra stop outside the Yountville Veterans’ Home, which provides a public firework show. Passengers can watch the fireworks from the comfort of the train, and it is perhaps a unique way to enjoy the display without the inconveniencies of sitting outdoors at night.

The photo below shows the Yountville Veterans’ Home before dark, taken from the northbound train.

Yountville Veterans' Home from the Wine Train

Yountville Veterans’ Home from the Wine Train

The photo below shows a typical vineyard view from the train. This is the V Sattui Winery. The roses at the end of each row of vines are intended to keep aphids off the grapes.

V Sattui Winery from the Wine Train

V Sattui Winery from the Wine Train

Turnaround in St. Helena

When the train reaches St. Helena, the locomotive must run around for the return journey. This year, for the first time since we’ve been taking trips on the Wine Train, our motive power was not a pair of Alco FPA-4s, but instead GP20 #48, on lease from the Sierra Railroad. Currently, the owners of the Wine Train are refurbishing much of the rolling stock, which has necessitated leasing stock from elsewhere.

Locomotive #48 is shown below as it ran past our carriage.

Sierra Railroad #48 at St. Helena

Sierra Railroad #48 at St. Helena

The photo below, taken at St. Helena during our 2016 visit, shows one of the FPA-4s more traditionally associated with the Wine Train.

Alco FPA-4 at St. Helena

Alco FPA-4 at St. Helena

Eventually we arrived back at Yountville after dark, the train halted, and we settled in to enjoy the fireworks. The photo below shows a typical scene, shot from inside the train.

Fireworks at Yountville, 2018

Fireworks at Yountville, 2018

I’d just bought a new Nikon camera, which features a “fireworks mode”, so this was an excellent opportunity to try that out. I was very pleased with the results.

An Excellent Dinner

I should add that our dinners on the train were excellent. In “special dining” situations such as this, the quality of food and service sometimes leaves something to be desired. In the early days of the Wine Train (during the 1990s), the food was not always outstanding, but our recent dinners on the trains have been perfect.

Independence Day for Kites

Juvenile White-Tailed Kite

Juvenile White-Tailed Kite

I took the photo above, showing a juvenile White-Tailed Kite, yesterday evening. I’d gone out for a short walk to take some test shots with a new Nikon superzoom camera. The results were better than I’d anticipated! Unfortunately, the only angle from which I could take the photos was against the sun, but nonetheless the results show good detail.

The White-Tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus, aka Black-Shouldered Kite) has apparently come back from the verge of extinction in California. It certainly seems to be an increasingly common bird here. When I first saw one, hovering over the old Naval airfield near our house a few years ago, I thought that it must be some kind of albino Kestrel, because that hovering behavior is very similar to that of the Eurasian and American Kestrels.

Until now, I’d only ever seen one kite at a time, but, yesterday evening, I eventually spotted no less than four kites flying around and screeching. They seemed to be fighting with each other, and sometimes with other birds of prey.

Eventually, and thanks to the detail revealed in the zoomed photographs, I realized that this must be a family of young kites, who were in the process of establishing their own territories. In the photo above, you can see brown plumage on the bird’s breast, which marks it as a juvenile.

The second photo below shows the plumage on the young kite’s back to better effect.

The same Juvenile White-Tailed Kite, showing its Black Shoulders

The same Juvenile White-Tailed Kite, showing its Black Shoulders

The birds were apparently disputing the prime rodent-hunting territory of the old airfield.

While all this was happening, nearby, perched on a power wire, was the Mourning Dove shown below. I’ve mentioned these birds, and their similarities to some species of Old World doves, in a previous article.

Mourning Dove, observing the Action

Mourning Dove, observing the Action

Normally I would expect such timid birds to go under cover when there are hawks around, but it seems that the dove had concluded that the kites were so preoccupied with each other that everyone else was safe!

I was considering what to write about for this year’s Fourth of July holiday, and it struck me that the independence battles of these young hawks made for an appropriate theme, despite being quite different from the Moggies cartoon that I posted for this holiday last year.

If you’ll be celebrating the Fourth of July, enjoy your holiday! Otherwise, have a good week anyway!

My Father and his Garden

My Father with his Roses, c.1960

My Father with his Roses, c.1960

For Father’s Day, I decided to post a photo of my own father alongside his “pride and joy”, which was the large garden that he cultivated at the house in Scarborough where we grew up. He lavished many of his leisure hours on that garden, growing all kinds of plants, including the rose bushes shown. The photo was taken c.1960, before he suffered his first stroke. After that, he was no longer able to do the physical work required to maintain the garden, which then gradually deteriorated (although my mother did pitch in to maintain it until we moved away in 1970).

There’s no doubt that the results he achieved while still healthy were spectacular, as shown in the photo below of the two of us sitting by the frog pond in the back garden.

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

My Father with Me in our Back Garden, 1963

Naturally, having nothing else against which to compare it, I took it for granted that everyone had a huge garden like ours, with a pond and a stream running through it, and that working on the garden was a necessary part of every adult’s life.

It was only as I grew up that I came to realize that, not only did some people not have large gardens, but that some city-dwelling types actually didn’t have their own gardens at all!

Decades later, when I moved to California, I made the further discovery that all that gardening effort is something of a British peculiarity. Some Americans do take pride in maintaining beautiful gardens, and some take an interest in cultivating roses or other specific types of plant. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone here say that their hobby is “gardening”, which would be quite common in Britain.

Large Garden: Small House

It was also common for British suburban houses to be built with large surrounding gardens, even when the homes themselves were quite small.

Now, both the homes and the gardens are becoming small; the smallest in Europe, according to this article. Nonetheless, there are still many older houses that still have the large gardens with which they were built.

According to current aerial views, the garden of our Scarborough house has now been largely built over, so there’s nothing left to see of all my father’s hard work.

On Second Thoughts

Having grown up enjoying that immense garden, I was convinced that I, too, wanted to create and maintain something similar. It was only when we moved into a house with a garden that I realized just how much time and expense was involved! It seemed even less appealing because we were renting that house, so all that effort was going into someone else’s garden.

As a result, I dialed back my gardening ambitions very substantially! Now, I’m quite happy to have a small, well-designed, garden, and pay someone else to maintain it, even though I own the property. The photo below, showing our home’s front garden a few months ago, shows the modest level of my requirements!

The Front Garden of our Home in Santa Rosa

The Front Garden of our Home in Santa Rosa

Recapturing his Childhood

In my father’s case, I believe that he had some specific, tragic reasons for wanting to create a large and luxuriant garden. He had been born into a relatively wealthy (upper middle class) family. His father owned a textile mill in Leeds, and they lived in a large house in the suburb of Roundhay, with a complement of servants.

Unfortunately, for various reasons, the mill went bankrupt, probably in the late 1920s, and because the business was unincorporated, they lost everything. My father’s garden was probably thus a way of recapturing a lost aspect of his happy younger days.

Royal Weddings & Royal Wars

 

The Dordogne River, France, from Chateau de Beynac

The Dordogne River, France, from Chateau de Beynac

I took the photo above, looking down onto the Dordogne River in France, from the ruined battlements of the Château de Beynac.

I was reminded of this view now because of its perhaps-surprising place in English history. As I’ll explain below, my thoughts were prompted by the recent media coverage of the forthcoming British Royal Wedding, which will take place on the 19th May. Given that I was born in Britain, perhaps some would imagine that I’d be enthusiastic about such an event. After all, as Canadian actor Mike Myers said of his own Liverpool-born father a few years ago (and as reported in the Liverpool Echo):

There’s no-one more English than an Englishman not living in England

Well, I’m sorry to have to admit that I don’t fit that stereotype, at least if it applies to a fondness for royalty and certain other British institutions.

I can’t say that I’ve ever taken any great interest in the activities of the Royal Family. When I was starting my engineering apprenticeship at Ferranti, back in 1981, the nation’s attention was focused on another “fairy tale” royal wedding; that of Charles and Diana. There’s probably nobody in the world who doesn’t know how badly that “fairy tale” ended, for all involved. Sadly, from what we know now, the whole business seems to have been a fraudulent façade from the start.

When I came to live in the US about 30 years ago, I was rather surprised by the level of interest shown by the American media in British royalty. Didn’t they fight a war to free themselves from those overlords? Of course, I now realize that most of the interest really stems from the unhealthy practice of celebrity worship, and not from any actual desire to be ruled by the House of Windsor!

In the latest case, things already seem to be going ”off the rails”, according to reports like this one (from the San Jose Mercury), indicating that the bride’s father is causing embarrassment and confusion.

English Royalty or French Royalty?

I’m not sure how many people outside Britain realize that what’s now the Royal Family traces its roots to William I, a prince from Normandy (France), who in 1066 famously invaded England, killed the English king, and claimed the country as his own.

William then embarked on a ruthless campaign to suppress resistance throughout the country, removing many of the former English lords and replacing them with his own supporters. The Harrying of the North was so cruel that many areas were left uninhabitable for decades afterwards.

Given that William also reigned over lands in what’s now France, his conquest of England led to centuries of strife over the rulership of the territories. This culminated in the Hundred Years War, by the end of which the King of England lost most of his French principalities.

At one point during the Hundred Years War, the border between English and French territory was the Dordogne River. In the photo above, the land from which I took the photo was at that time French, while the land that’s visible on the other side of the river was English.

The photo below shows the Château de Beynac from below. The road from which I took the photo runs along the North bank of the river.

Beynac from the River Bank

Beynac from the River Bank

The photo below shows an evening view of the central plaza in the commune of Domme, a few miles from Beynac. Domme is a bastide like Beynac, but, being on the opposite bank of the Dordogne, was in English hands during the Hundred Years War.

The Mairie of Domme

The Mairie of Domme

Off with their Heads!

One notable (if unsurprising) fact about those medieval wars is that nobody ever asked the populations of the disputed territories who they would prefer to be ruled by. The pretenders to the thrones, and their personal armies, simply fought among themselves, and it was taken for granted that the populace would accept the outcome.

Ideas of government have certainly come a long way since then, and (despite some major shortcomings) one of the world’s most successful experiments in democratic government must surely be the USA.

Unfortunately, in contrast to the US case, many attempts to overthrow monarchies and replace them with democratic governments have not been successful. Amid all the current Royal Wedding fuss, it’s easy to forget that such a revolution once happened in England, as the outcome of the English Civil War. In 1649, the English monarchy was bloodily terminated when King Charles I was publicly beheaded. Unfortunately, the dictatorship that replaced him (led by Oliver Cromwell) was so unpleasant that the monarchy was eventually restored by popular demand!

Thus, while I’m no fan of monarchies anywhere, I’m well aware that the alternatives may sometimes be much worse!

Becoming American (in Oakland)

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Last Thursday, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America, after living here for about 27 years as a legal Permanent Resident. The photo above shows the stage of the Paramount Theatre, in Oakland, which was where the swearing-in ceremony took place.

(I mentioned in a previous post that I had passed the US Citizenship test at the CIS offices in San Francisco, and was waiting to be called for this event.)

Given the number of new citizens being admitted, there was a large crowd at the event. There were 1,018 people being sworn in at that ceremony, and everyone had been invited to bring family and friends, so there were several thousand people in the theater.

Prior to the actual oath-taking, there were several speeches, videos, and even a choir! The photo below shows California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaking to the audience. Padilla himself is an immigrant from Mexico.

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

At the end of the ceremony, everyone takes the Oath of Allegiance as a group, and then Certificates of Naturalization are distributed to each individual. After exiting the auditorium, we were invited to register to vote and to apply for a US passport. This turned out to be quite chaotic, so instead of trying to get a photograph of me in the theatre, we went to the coffee shop next door, where Mary took the photo below. The flag in my hand was given to me at the ceremony, but I’ve owned the tie for many years!

A New American!

A New American!

An Art Deco Masterpiece

The Paramount Theatre was built in 1931, by an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, and was constructed in an opulent Art Deco style. Thankfully, after decades of neglect, the building was saved and restored to its current condition.

The photo below shows the theater’s lobby, with soon-to-be citizens entering from the street in the background.

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

The exterior of the theater is equally impressive, as shown below.

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Next door to the theater is another spectacular Art Deco survivor, the former I Magnin store, clad in beautiful green terracotta (and also built in 1931), now converted into offices and a coffee shop. This coffee shop was the one in which Mary took the photo of me, above.

In the photo below, the queue around the building is formed by people waiting to get into the theater for the next swearing-in ceremony, which began almost as soon as mine was over!

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

It’s a great credit to the City of Oakland that at least some of its architectural gems have been saved in this way, and their presence comes as quite a surprise in the midst of so much “urban blight”.

Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow

The ceremony started quite early in the morning, so, to avoid the rush hour traffic, we decided to stay over in Oakland the night before. We stayed at the Z Hotel, Jack London Square. The photo below shows the hotel and its parking lot after dark.

The Z Hotel, Oakland

The Z Hotel, Oakland

As the song “Walk Like An Egyptian” goes; “If you want to find all the cops, They’re hanging out…” at this hotel, apparently. The Buttercup coffee shop at the hotel is open late, and the location is close to the Oakland Police Station, so it seems that this has become a regular meeting place. The “police presence” certainly made us feel safer while staying at the hotel!

The impressive floodlit building below is situated on the opposite side of 3rd Street from the hotel, but it took some time before I worked out what it actually is. It is the former depot of the Western Pacific railroad, whose trains stopped on street tracks in front of the depot until 1970.

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

This photo on Flickr shows a WP California Zephyr train waiting at the depot. You can see the depot building on the right, and on the left is the motel that is now the Z Hotel.

Although there are no longer any railroad tracks down 3rd Street, they are very much still in place on Embarcadero West, only about 2 blocks away from the hotel. This line is still heavily used by both passenger and freight trains. The photo below shows the tail end of a freight that had just passed the crossing on Broadway.

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

We could hear the train horns quite clearly from the hotel, although fortunately they do not sound in the middle of the night.

The Heron at the Pool

As mentioned above, the Z Hotel itself is a former motel, and still features a swimming pool. The following morning, while we were getting ready to take a shuttle bus up Broadway to the theater, the pool’s sole user was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, which was hoping in vain to catch its breakfast there! The photo below shows the pool area and a closeup of the bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

When I open my wallet now, it seems strange not to see the Permanent Resident Card that I was required to carry for 27 years! This is due to a legal oddity; non-citizens are required to carry proof of their residency status, but citizens are not.