Britain’s monasteries

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Fans of the Bronte sisters, poet Sylvia Plath and artist David Hockney can stay in a Georgian Retreat House and visit the nearby towns where these artisans are immortalized.

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Set in rural Warwickshire and standing beside a historic 14th century church, the Retreat House is embraced by its own gardens that overlook the verdant countryside. Close by, the village of Morley was formerly the site of quarries, now a wildlife reserve. The village’s main attraction is the Parish Church of St. Mathew  where some of the finest displays of medieval stained glass windows in the country can be admired. Much of the glass came from Dale Abbey at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The church boasts a Norman nave while the tower, chancel and north chapel date to the late 14th and early 15th century.

HE story of the Brontes is one of the saddest in the annals of literature. They were the children of a father who was both cold and violent, and of a gentle, sickly mother, early lost. They were reared amid surroundings the most gloomy and unhealthful, and cursed as they grew older with a brother who brought them shame and sorrow in return for the love they lavished upon him.

Bronte aficionados will want to visit nearby Haworth, famous for its connections with the famous sisters who lived at Haworth Parsonage and wrote some of their most famous novels including Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Now the Bronte Parsonage Museum, the rooms are meticulously furnished as they were in the Bronte era and include many personal treasures. Evoking the Bronte sisters’ novels are a number of local walks such as Bronte Falls and Bronte Bridge.

In early morning of 11 February 1963, Plath took her own life. She placed her head in a gas oven after completely sealing the rooms between herself and her children. She left a note for the man who lived downstairs, Trevor Thomas, to call her doctor. However, rather than rising, the gas seeped through the floor and knocked Mr Thomas out cold for several hours. An au pair girl was to arrive at nine o'clock that morning to help Plath with the care of her children. Arriving promptly at 9, the au pair could not get into the flat. It has been suggested that Plath's timing & planning of this suicide attempt was too precise, too coincidental, not to be "serious" or intended. She had previously asked Mr Thomas what time he would be leaving. Plath must have turned the gas on at a time when Mr Thomas should have been waking & beginning his day. A note was placed that read "Call Dr Horder" and left his phone number. These measures were too time-sensitive and could have saved Plath's life if events followed her suggested logic.

In the interesting mill town of Hebden Bridge, the houses hang precariously from the steep valley sides. An ancient town, it grew up close to the River Hebden at the point where a stone bridge was built as part of a packhorse route in the 16th century. Heptonstall, above the town shows its antiquity in narrow cobbled streets lined with 500-year old cottages and the ruins of a 13th century church. It is the churchyard though that attracts visitors and the place where the poet Sylvia Plath is buried.

At nearby Hebden Water is an area known as the “crags,” an arena of footpaths encompassing a medley of natural and archaeological history, passing through dense woodland alive with oak, ash, beech and pine trees. In springtime, these lofty trees spread their branches over a carpet of vibrant, gently nodding bluebells. Gibson Mill offers hands-on exhibits and provides insight into the lives of the people who toiled at the mill for up to 72 hours a week, often for very little reward.

Another interesting side trip can include Saltaire, a perfectly preserved village of honey-colored cottages that originated as an answer to Bradford’s “dark, satanic mills.” Now recognized as a World Heritage Site, the former Salt Mill has been transformed into an art gallery and houses works of the famous Bradford born artist David Hockney. The village is also home to a historic gem, the United Reform Church, a Victorian structure and an exquisite example of Italianate religious architecture.

For more information, visit: Monasteries of Britain

Books, tranquility and woodland walks await at this Centre… only $80 full board

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The center contains about 10,000 texts, some of which date back to the 1500s.

The center is located within its own extensive grounds that form the largest organic garden of Birmingham. The center preserves one of the largest Quaker libraries, second only to the Friends House in London and contains about 10,000 texts some of which date back to the 1500s. It is open 24 hours a day for guests. The garden boasts a tranquil lake with an island, an authentic Victorian boating house, a labyrinth, Chinese garden, wet meadows, woodland walks and a walled kitchen garden that produces most of the vegetables for the house’s kitchen Tours of the garden are available. In nearby Dudley, the ruins of Dudley Castle have dominated the town since it was built in Norman times. The castle is one of the most important ruins in the West Midlands and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

Nearby Lapworth has not changed very much over the centuries. It is a becoming mix of ancient properties that mingle harmoniously with barn conversions and new structures. Lapworth’s lovely church is noteworthy for its detached battlemented tower and steeple. A tall nave with a clerestory of Perpendicular square-headed windows distinguishes the architecture.

Lapworth is close to the Tudor delights of Henley-in-Arden. Hidden amidst the verdant lanes of Warwickshire, this pleasant town has maintained much of its original allure and character with buildings covering every period of history going back to medieval times. The one-mile High Street is classified as a Conservation Area and contains many buildings of architectural interest including oak timbered properties dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. They have been beautifully preserved, hence its singular designation.

For more information visit: MonasteriesOfBritain.com

DISCOVER RUINS AND AN IRON AGE HILL FORT… $60 per person for a twin in this historic institution.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Salisbury is home to a 17th century theological college offering hospitality to all.

Salisbury is home to a 17th century theological college offering hospitality to all. An historical town its earliest foundation dates to the 11th century. It is only two miles from a hill called Old Sarum, site of the original castle and cathedral, now impressive ruins. The massive Iron Age hill fort of Old Sarum was re-used by the Romans, Saxons and Normans before growing into one of the most flourishing settlements in medieval England.

From the Iron Age ramparts, there are fine views of the countryside. Medieval Salisbury has much to offer including historic chequers (squares) and alleyways, charming half-timbered buildings and Britain’s finest medieval cathedral, unique Salisbury Cathedral, Unlike its cousins, the cathedral did not evolve gradually over centuries but rather was built to completion within a single generation. As a result, it presents a remarkable unity of vision. Begun in 1220, the 404′ spire is the tallest in England, a fact known by most English school children. What is not as well known is that the medieval builders of the spire accomplished their masterpiece with foundations only five to six feet deep in the wet ground to bear the strain of 6,400 tons. There are 323 steps to the spire and excellent views of Salisbury and the countryside.

The Cathedral Library houses the original copy of the Magna Carta, brought here by William Longpre, Earl of Salisbury and half brother to King John.

The Cathedral Library houses the original copy of the Magna Carta, brought here by William Longpre, Earl of Salisbury and half brother to King John. Longpre is buried in the cathedral, the first person so honored. The nave houses the oldest working mechanical clock in the world dating to 1386. There are no hands and no clock face; rather, it rings a chime of bells every hour. It was originally built to call the bishops to services.

Just as there is more to the cathedral than the spire so there is more to the city than the cathedral. A wide green space, The Close envelops the cathedral. Essentially it is a walled city within the city ringed by wonderful period houses. Among the most memorable is Mompesson House, an elegant spacious 18th century structure, it displays magnificent plasterwork, a fine oak staircase and splendid furniture and contains the Turnbull collection of 18th century drinking glasses.

For more information got to: MonasteriesOfBritain.com