The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Greetings from Caerleon, Chepstow, Tintern, Monmouth

I have always managed to be in a church on Good Friday when I have been in Britain, and this year was no different. We went first to Caerleon, one of the sites frequently associated with Camelot, though the Roman museum there carefully made no mention whatsoever of Arthurian legend. Instead there were relics dug up at the nearby barracks and graves -- weapons and beads and the remains of shoes. The museum has a reproduction of Roman barracks and many suits of armor, but is not nearly as interesting as the excavated barracks and amphitheatre across the street, where University of Cardiff students were surveying a yet-unexplored field adjacent to the barracks. The amphitheatre rises in mounds out of the ground where the arches were buried and looks astonishingly complete. I didn't feel particularly strong King Arthur vibes there -- much less than at Glastonbury, even though the graves there said to be Arthur and Guinevere's are almost certainly not -- but it's amazing to see something from so long ago that has lasted for so long.

We had lunch on the grounds of Chepstow Castle, one of the earliest stone castles in Britain, dating from about 1090. It was held by Royalists and besieged during the English Civil War, then used as a prison and allowed to decay, so that now it is a beautiful ruin with gorgeous views of the Wye from the paneless windows. We toured the castle, then drove to Tintern Abbey. There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream were made easily accessible by the National Trust and English Heritage people working at them, but I must say that I am thoroughly unimpressed by Cadw, the Welsh equivalent. The town was very crowded both with tourists and locals all going to some kind of Good Friday fair, and the miniscule parking lot couldn't hold all the cars coming in. Lots of people were parking illegally in front of the abbey and on the street creating traffic hazards, but we figured we would do the right thing and ask if we could park in one of the many unused coach parking spots for a few minutes -- there was not a single coach to be seen -- but the answer was no. We got lucky and managed to get a spot after much driving in circles, but at that point I wasn't all that thrilled by the abbey, which isn't as dramatic as Rievaulx, as scenic as Fountains, as striking as Whitby nor as meaningful to me as Glastonbury, despite the fact that I spent a week studying the poem in a Wordsworth class as an undergraduate.

We went from Tintern to Monmouth, birthplace of Henry V, which has a small Nelson museum including a substantial collection of his letters, though there were none of the impressive displays we saw in Portsmouth a couple of years ago -- Nelson displays are always amusing because it seems like the curators don't quite know what to do about all the controversy he caused before he became the martyred naval legend by dying on his ship in his moment of triumph. Then we drove to Gloucester Cathedral, nearly 1000 years old (and a setting for the first two Harry Potter films, which naturally had nothing to do with why we visited, heh). Formerly Gloucester Abbey, the building was spared during the Dissolution because Edward II is buried there after being murdered in captivity, since Henry VIII apparently did not want to destroy a building where a king was buried and refounded it as a cathedral. It is quite magnificent, with cleaner, brighter stained glass than most of the cathedrals we have visited and beautiful cloisters. Tenebrae services had just ended when we arrived, so the church was in darkness save the light through the stained glass and from candles, which was wonderfully evocative. We drove back to High Littleton through fields of sheep, cows, horses and golden flowers, with the occasional rabbit and deer along with pheasants and magpies by the side of the road.

On the upper portion of the amphitheatre ruins at Caerleon.

In the Roman museum at a model of the barracks...

...and at the ruins of the excavated barracks themselves.

At the foot of the hill upon which sits Chepstow Castle.

Boys outside the gate of the castle...

...and trying on armor inside.

The ruins of Tintern Abbey...

...overlooking the magnificent Wye Valley.

Some of Nelson's letters at the museum in Monmouth.

Gloucester Cathedral behind the Saint Oswald's Priory wall.

Photos are not allowed within the cathedral except in the outdoor central area. My finger must have slipped on the shutter in the cloisters, and there was enough light to record the photo without flash.

Boys outside the cathedral entrance.

There's more but I am trying to get this posted before my internet connection dies again. Will be completely offline tomorrow night in remote Wales, hopefully back online Sunday!
Tags: britain 07

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