Going ‘up north’……..
The cancellation of the York Cycle Show gave me the opportunity of heading to Sheffield to take my eldest brother out for a birthday lunch. I could either make a 200 mile dash on the bike (there and back), or take a few more days, and a more devious route, and find out what there was to see. The route looked something like this, a total of 364 miles/585kms:
I was amazed to discover that Stamford (Lincs) had wallowed in the delights and dangers of bull-running in the streets for over 700 years. And I had thought that only crazy towns like Pamplona in Spain indulged in such medieval pastimes.
Newark Castle was a revelation. A Royalist town through and through, it had withstood three sieges during the English Civil War, and only capitulated on the orders of the then captured Charles I. Then the Parliamentarians, without any consideration for their country’s heritage, proceeded to dynamite the place. But I have a question: why is the town called Newark on Trent, when the river runs almost 2 miles north of the town?
When I dropped by to see Rufford Abbey (near Ollerton), I found that an International Ceramics Fair was occupying the ruin, but in a rose garden nearby, I chanced upon a “heliochronometer” (now, dear reader, don’t even pretend you have heard of one of these before….), a kind of ‘Dyson-esque’ improvement on a normal sundial.
And now they have actually found the long-lost body of Richard III (under a car park in Leicester), the Richard III Society will be crowing with delight, and we can now expect to see reconstructions of what he actually looked like, and the excellent battlefield museum at Bosworth Fields will now have to extend its display.
If you need to stop somewhere for a rest north of Milton Keynes, there is no better place than Stoke Bruerne, a pretty little village on the Grand Union Canal that boasts a series of locks and tunnels.
But having recently become a member of English Heritage, I was determined to start cashing in on my investment. Near the village of Silsoe in Bedforshire, I was astonished to discover the sheer size of Wrest Park, its layers of history through 600 years of ownership by the De Grey family, its occupation by the Sun Alliance insurance company, its use as a hospital during WWI, its conversion to an agricultural college in later years, and finally it came to rest in the hands of English Heritage, whose long term plan is to restore the multi-layered gardens to their original state.
But as I passed through Ampthill in Bedfordshire, my attention was caught by this pub sign. Why, you might ask, is the head of Catherine of Aragon (first wife of Henry VIII) adorning the sign of the Queen’s Head pub? First of all, technically she had been downgraded to a Dowager Princess by her husband, so when she died she was no longer a queen. However, the castle at Ampthill had been her first place of house-arrest, and the people had loved her, and had opposed her separation from Henry. This is simply one pub’s way of correcting an ‘accident of history’.