Tuesday, February 28, 2012

York in the snow, the Abbey again, and a Rugby match!

Yet again it's been a while since the last update. We've both been quite busy with uni work, and have both been ill with the flu off and on over the last few weeks. The good news is that we're both healthy and fighting fit, and it's starting to get warmer. It's a little over two weeks until uni breaks for easter, and we head off for our month long trip to Sweden, Berlin, Budapest and Paris. We're both very excited, even if there are a few essays and whatnot to be completed before end of term.

Well, despite the uni work and sickness, we've managed to get out and about and do a bit. A few weekends ago now, Steve headed over from Manchester and we headed out to sample a bit of the Leeds nightlife. We checked out a couple of good pubs, and a few pints (ale for me, scrumpy for Laura) later, we ended up finding a pub with some decent atmosphere, decent-ish music and grabbed some food. Pub food is pretty good over here, and sooo cheap - 4 pound (~$6) for a burger, chips and a pint. On a Friday night. In the city. Anyway, the demographic was pretty interesting, running the gamut from first-year or 'fresher' students right through to old blokes in flat caps. Very different to Oz, where heading out for a night on the town seems mostly to be for younger people.
Anyway, a few hours and a few shots later, we headed back home and crashed, Steve got the sofa.
The next day we got up later than planned and then headed off to York, about an hours drive away.

- History alert-
York is, unsurprisingly, the capital of Yorkshire. It's mind-blowingly old, being founded in 71 AD by the IXth Roman legion who built a wooden fort on the River Ouse. The fort expanded into a settlement, then a city, which was called Eboracum. It ended up as the Roman capital of the province of Britannia Inferior, and besides a host of Roman emperors including Hadrian and Septimius Severus visiting the city, it was in York that Constantine 'the Great' was acclaimed Emperor in 306 CE.

The city came under Anglo-Saxons control some time in the 5th century. The city, now called Eoforwic, was established as capital of the powerful Kingdom of Northumbria by King Edwin in the 7th century. In 866, Danish Vikings under Ivar the Boneless raided and captured York, setting up their kingdom of Jorvik which lasted for over a century. The last Viking ruler, the wonderfully named Eric Bloodaxe, was driven out by the English King Edred in 954CE.

In 1066, the pivotal battles of Fulford and Stamford Bridge took place, pitting the English against more Vikings, this time Norwegians under Harald Hadraada. The English came off best, but later in the year they were defeated by the Normans under William I of Normandy.

William captured York in 1068 and immediately began construction of York castle. In the 1080s work began on a church which would eventually become the magnificent and imposing York Minster. Throughout the middle ages York often served as royal court for the English kings, due to its strategic position close to the Scottish borders - Edward I was based there during his campaigns against William Wallace. The Scots gave as good as they got, raiding as far south of York on occasion. There is actually still a York bylaw which says it is legal to shoot a Scotsman with a crossbow from the city walls after dark.

In the 1480s, King Richard III of the house of York used the city as his base during the War of the Roses (so-called as the House of York had as it's symbol a white rose, the opposing Lancastrians Red). After Richard's defeat and death at Bosworth in 1485, York underwent a period of decline, made worse by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.

The city was besieged by Parliamentarian forces during the English Civil War, and, after defeating a royalist army at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, they returned and sacked the city.
In the following centuries, as industrialisation kicked in, York's position was supplanted by the industrial powerhouses of Leeds and Hull.

So, that's the very brief history of a very old town. There is still so much history about, with the city still being surrounded by the medieval walls, the streets retain their medieval character, windy cobbled lanes with half timbered houses which look like they are about to topple over, all dominated by the massive York Minster. Thanks to the snow, the walls were closed off to us, so we wandered around the old town for a while, ending up at the site of the castle, now a museum. We did manage to check out Clifford's tower, the surviving part of the castle, and grabbed some lunch. There was a Viking festival of sorts going on in the town, and some very brave (and beardy) souls were dressed in full Viking clothes and armour and had set up campsites in the snow with period-authentic Viking tents. You can see these guys in the pictures at the top of this update. Below are some more pictures, Clifford's Tower, Micklegate Bar (in York, city gateways are called bars. Oh, and streets are called 'gates'. Confused? Anyway, Micklegate is a gate in the city walls, still in use) old houses, The Castle Museum buildings, and various churches and snow fight pics. There's also a pretty crazy picture of the flower garden. This was at uni, and the little plants were not only still alive but flowering through their holes in the snow.

It was absolutely freezing, far colder than Leeds, and so after a bit of a snowball fight out the front of the Castle museum, we decided to head back to Leeds so Steve could check out Kirkstall Abbey. We'd realised that you could actually get into the site, and wander around the grounds. The abbey church was immense, and it's amazing that such craftsmanship on such an immense scale was achieved in what was effectively the dark ages. And it's still standing now! I wonder what our shopping centres and houses will look like in 1000 years time.

Anyway, it was great to get a chance to explore around the actual grounds, and we managed to locate some creepy stone coffins, some 18th century graffiti, the Abbots quarters (two stories with two fireplaces! There were only three fireplaces in the whole Abbey! It must have been good to be abbot) and, of course, the medieval privies. Oh, and Steve managed to locate some fortifications, though I have a feeling they may have been a later addition.
After a great day we said goodbye to Steve and headed home. Below are some pictures. The first one hopefully gives some idea of the scale of the abbey - the thing is immense. The others are from the church, Steve in a castle, on a medieval privy, me going up the stairs to the Abbots room and picture of the cloister.

The next day, I managed to come down with the flu (again!) so the rest of the week was spent on cold and flu tablets. Realising I wasn't getting any better, after a lot of running around and much filling out of forms, I managed to get into see the doctor just across the road from our flat.
Mum and Dad had let us know that Dad's rugby league team, the Manly Sea-Eagles, were heading to Leeds for a showdown against the local team, the Leeds Rhinos. Mum and Dad shouted us tickets, and with the antibiotics kicking in, we decided to rug up, and head out to Headingly Carnegie Stadium for the match. This, as it turned out, was a fantastic decision. Despite the fact that there were probably a dozen other Manly supporters out of a capacity crowd of 17,500, the atmosphere was amazing. The crowd was chanting and singing (they even belted out God Save the Queen and 'Rule Britannia' a few times :)) and having a great time, made better no doubt by the fact that Manly were soundly beaten. To be fair, it was freezing cold and pouring with rain from time to time, and the Manly players looked rather freezing. The Rhinos played really well, and it was a great game to watch. Even better the crowd were all really friendly, the Rhinos supporter next to Laur even shook her hand at the end, and said good game. After another awesome night out, we headed back to the flat.

Well, that's about it for this update. We've since returned to York, checked out some of the excellent museums, and done a few more things. But thats for the next update!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Well it's been a while since our last blog post, but it looks like these updates are going to be a little sporadic, so apologies! :)
For those of you who haven't watched the news, Europe is in the middle of a cold snap, and as a result it's actually snowing! Our little corner of West Yorkshire is now covered in a rather thick blanket of snow, and while I'm sure that the novelty will quickly wear off when we have to travel to and from uni in the snow, for the moment it's pretty awesome indeed.
Speaking of uni, both Laur and I have settled in to our classes and started to get our head around the world of the University of Leeds. After initially having enrolled in four courses, I've decided to drop one to make the workload a little more manageable. So, I'm taking (or should that be reading?) purely history courses for the next 12 or so weeks! I must say I'm rather excited, especially as the courses seem thus far to be not only very interesting and well organised, but definitely something not available back at the Uni of Newcastle.

I'm studying three very different modules: first up, there is a consideration of Great Power politics in the lead up to the First World War, taught by Dr. Afflerbach, a very knowledgeable and VERY German professor. His attempts at humour particularly seem to be lost in translation, but he is very animated and his lectures are very entertaining.
My next subject goes back into the depth of the dark ages, focusing upon the 'second wave' of barbarian invasions, the Anglo-Saxons, Slavs, Vikings and Lombards among others. I'm loving this course, it really emphasises recent archaeological advances, and as the course is led by Professor Ian Wood, a leading expert in the field who is actively involved in current digs and research, it's very exciting and feels quite nice to be 'at the coalface' of dark-age history as it were.
Lastly, I'm taking a course which I was rather hesitant about, the thrillingly titled 'Catholic Europe c.1570-1648.' I know right? But Professor Wright who is leading this course is fantastic and very entertaining indeed. He's an ancient professor of ecclesiastical history, is constantly dressed in a tattered old three piece suit, looks not unlike Prince Philip, speaks with a very strong Oxbridge accent, (using statements beginning with 'one must always...') and refers to students as 'Mister X' or 'Miss X'. Being in a tutorial led by him feels like I'm in a film! I'll see if I can surreptitiously snap a photo of him at some stage and post it up on here. Besides the professor's very entertaining manner, the subject matter actually seems to be rather interesting also, and is filling in a rather large knowledge gap in my understanding of European History.

Laura is also really enjoying her courses, which are also something unavailable in Australia. She's also taking three modules, one is a Textiles design course, based in the university's old Clothworkers building, and where she has a chance to work with industrial knitting and textile machinery. She also has to come up with a design proposal and follow it through to completion, but I'm sure she'll post more on this later.

She's also taking a course dealing with the history of and correlation between designs and culture, and I'm very jealous in particular of the lectures which are set to deal with Islamic and Byzantine art. Her professor for this subject sounds bonafide Indiana Jones type, working on digs in Mesopotamia, and even finding an ancient burial crypt in the north of Mongolia.
As well as these two, Laur is taking a course which deals with the role and function of Museums, and as a part of this she gets to go on tours to some of the fantastic museums and viewing some of the amazing art and historical collections around Leeds.

Besides the courses, the architecture of the university is amazing. There are a few major buildings, the huge art-deco style Parkinson being the most prominent, but the older Great Hall and clothworkers buildings are more than a little reminiscent of Hogwarts. The libraries are amazing also, there are four on campus and each dwarfs the collection of our home university.
The student union building seems to have become our regular haunt, and we've discovered that the Refectory in which the main restaurant area is has been host to many, many, many gigs from the 1950s to today, and it's rather surreal to eat lunch next to the stage where The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Who have played. The Who even recorded their album Live at Leeds in the same room! It looks like Leeds Uni still has a lot of new bands going around, with everything from dance gigs to productions of Mozart operas going on around campus - all for around the 4 pound mark. We might have to catch some music while we're here.
Here are some pictures, mostly of the uni but of the Leeds Town Hall also, and one of Laur at the Vesper road bus stop.

As well as the uni, we've been doing a bit of exploring around Kirkstall, the suburb we're based in. When the snow came falling down today, we decided to head down to the park and then on to the imposing Abbey building and take some pictures and enjoy walking about in the snow.
Well rugged up, we set out down the hill - quickly discovering that it is best not to stand too close to the road when a bus goes past - the salt-grit used to keep the road clear of ice makes for a lovely mud-sludge which gets flung up onto the sidewalk! The park was full of people with the same idea as us, and while mucking about we had to keep dodging tobogganing kids and adults. It looks like heaps of fun, and we both wanted to have a go.
After a while spent taking some pictures and having a bit of a snowball fight, we headed onwards through the snow to Kirkstall abbey. Those of you averse to historical titbits, look away now :)

Kirkstall Abbey was built by the fun-loving Cistercian order of Monks during the early 1100s, shortly after the Norman conquest of the late 11th Century. It was home to about seventy monks and lay-brethren and ruled over by an Abbot. The Cistercians, as with other monastic orders, were tasked with praying for the souls of the locals, who in return gave the monastery gifts and money. Consequently monasteries usually became rather wealthy places, but for some reason or another Kirkstall remained rather poverty stricken throughout it 400 year existence, even having to be bailed out by the local nobility on several occasions.

The Cistercians were a particularly no-nonsense order of monks, forbidding themselves meat, decent heating, comfortable bedding or even stained glass in their monastery church - all of which their God apparently frowned upon! The monk's days revolved around prayer, beginning at 2am, and prayer or bible reading was constant. Even while eating their one meal a day - a gruel of vegetables and bread - the monks were subjected to sermonising, as apparently simply feeding the body without feeding the soul was just not on. The Abbots who ran the monastery were an equally happy bunch, one Abbot called Turgusius apparently never wore anything but an old cotton shirt, going about barefoot in snow and constantly weeping, so that his shirt was always dripping wet. Visitors would occasionally visit the monastry, most often to view the local holy relic, the girdle of St. Bernard, which was believed to help with childbirth when laid on the stomach of a pregnant woman, but the monks also provided a place to stay for travellers and medical help in the infirmary.

Anyway, all of this merriment was brought to an end in the 1540s, when King Henry VIII's officers shut the monastery down, allegedly after uncovering some cases of sodomy. Mind you, this was a part of the kingdom-wide dissolution of the monasteries, and royal inspectors were under pressure to find reasons to close monasteries. All monasteries across England were closed, the roof tiles removed to prevent anyone inhabiting the buildings, and the monks and abbots either paid off or, if they were being particularly obstinate, killed. Kirkstall's monk's and abbot accepted a tidy payout and handed over the keys to the monastery with minimal fuss. Since then, the buildings have remained abandoned, and for much of the 17-19th century, the main road into Leeds ran straight through the centre of the Abbey church.

So much for the potted history. The buildings are huge, made more imposing by being abandoned and ruined. It is amazing to see something built almost 1000 years ago which, despite being abandoned for five centuries, is still standing.

Anyway, this has turned into another mammoth posting, thanks to those of you who've stuck it through this far! We're hoping to get out and about a bit more once the weather clears up, and the tentative 'to see' list incudes Edinburgh, York, the Northumberland coast including Lindisfarne and Bamburgh castle, and the Yorkshire Dales.
Chat soon!