Stonehenge Revisited

The other day I was going over the photos I took on our visit to Stonehenge last September and I made two momentous decisions: (1) it is finally time to replace the standard header on my blog with with one of my own photos (see above); and (2) why not play a little in Lightroom and see what one of the photos would look like in black and white.

Continue reading

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

London 2013: The Monks of Glastonbury Abbey

The history of Glastonbury goes back at least 1700 years. A Christian religious center was established in Glastonbury by the 5th century, probably building over older pagan structures. What is now Somerset County became part of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the middle of the 7th century and Saxons controlled the abbey for about 400 years. Normans from France invaded England in the 11th century and the abbey flourished under them for another 500 years. The walls then crumbled for the next 400 years but things have been looking up for the last hundred years.

xx

A portion of a reconstructed wall and walkway near the St Patrick’s Chapel.

xx

What the abbey looked like 500 years ago.

xx

All that is left of the Great Church: a portion of the southern walls and two of the Great Crossing Tower piers.

Continue reading

Posted in History, London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London 2013: Glastonbury Abbey’s St Patrick’s Chapel

It took a mere five minutes to travel from Chalice Well to the entrance to Glastonbury Abbey on Magdalene Street near its intersection with High Street. David our tour guide got us through the admission process and then told us that we were free to explore the abbey grounds for as long as we wanted and then find a restaurant for lunch.

xx

Some members of our tour bus group heading for the entrance to Glastonbury Abbey. The tower in the background belongs to St John the Baptist Church, built in the 16th century to provide religious services for local residents.

xx

Statue of Sigeric the Serious near the abbey entrance. Sigeric was a Glastonbury monk who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He is famous for the diary he kept while on a pilgrimage to Rome in the year 990.  In his diary he noted all the stops he made in France, Switzerland and northern Italy and all of the churches he visited in Rome.

The first building we encountered near the abbey entrance was the recently-renovated St Patrick’s Chapel. The abbey received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant in late 2008 to repair and enhance the chapel that was built around 1500 to provide religious services for the abbey’s almshouse for women. The grant allowed restoration training to local artists and crafts persons. Fleur Kelly produced the frescoes and Wayne Ricketts designed the stained glass windows. These artists managed to include in their art all of the great legends associated with the Glastonbury Abbey and the restored chapel was re-opened to the public in early 2010. Religious services (Church of England) are held every Tuesday morning in the chapel.

xx

The chapel’s East Window features St Joseph of Arimathea, St Patrick, St Dunstan (who was abbot of Glastonbury before becoming archbishop of Canterbury), St Michael Archangel standing on a dragon atop  Glastonbury Tor, and St Brigid.

xx

Four saints often associated with Glastonbury lore (David, Phagan, Deruvian and Dunstan) are portrayed on the north wall along with the last abbot, Richard Whiting, who was brutally executed when the abbey was closed by King Henry VIII in 1539. And there’s St Michael hovering over Glastonbury Tor.

xx

The exorcism of St Mary Magdalene.

xx

St Bridget with her spindle and bowl of fire. The famous Irish saint supposedly lived in Glastonbury for awhile.

xx

The Blessed Virgin Mary with her rose and rosary.

xx

St Patrick with his wolfhound and some of the snakes he drove out of Ireland. There are also shamrocks in every corner of the window. St Patrick visited Glastonbury and some say he died here but the people of County Down in northern Ireland claim otherwise.

After our visit to St Patrick’s chapel we walked around the ruins of what once was the greatest abbey in all of England. And that will be the subject of my next posting.

Posted in London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

London 2013: Chalice Well

French troubadours in the 12th century sang about how a chalice containing the blood of Christ was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. Soon many versions of the Holy Grail story spread across Europe. According to one version a red-flowing spring gushed out of the spot where Joseph buried the chalice on Glastonbury Tor. The troubadours sang other songs about a king named Arthur who reigned about 500 years after Joseph’s visit. Arthur sent his knights all over England (and perhaps Wales) in search of this Holy Grail.

IMG_5478-1
Wellesley Tudor Pole (1884 – 1968) was a spiritualist and mystic who had a great interest in the Arthurian legends. In 1958 he acquired the land with the red-flowing spring at the base of Glastonbury Tor and in 1959 he set up a trust and gave the property to the people of the U.K. It’s called Chalice Well and people come from all over to meditate in the well-kept gardens and drink the water that has a high concentration of iron oxide.

The main walkway through the gardens.

The main walkway through the gardens.

Looking back at main entrance. Rest rooms are in the background to the right.

Looking back at the main entrance. Rest rooms are in the background to the right.

The waterfall.

The waterfall.

You can drink the water coming out of the lion's head. I saw several people go by with their bottles filled.

You can drink the water coming out of the lion’s head. I saw several people go by with their bottles filled.

My 3-d shot.

My 3-d shot. I don’t know what the red ribbon was for but it made a nice contrast with the moss on the branches.

Chalice Well is open to people of all religions including Christians who may be interested in the Holy Grail stories. But I got the impression that most of the visitors are more interested in pre-Christian religions. David, our tour guide, had told us about the Druids who descend on Stonehenge during the summer solstice every year and explained that paganism is an official religion in the U.K. I noticed that most of the people meditating in the gardens were women and some of them probably belonged to various goddess-worshiping cults. But maybe it’s just that more women than men go on tours like ours. Of the 14 passengers on our bus, four were men and ten were women.

Some garden scenes . . .

Some garden scenes . . .

IMG_5485-1IMG_5486-1IMG_5487-1IMG_5489-1

Garden arrangement to the right of the pools in King Arthur's Court.

Garden arrangement to the right of the pools in King Arthur’s Court.

There’s a gift shop on the premises plus a retreat house for supporters of the trust and poetry and music programs are held on evenings during the summer. Right outside the boundaries of Chalice Well there is a White Spring with a high concentration of calcium. Some of the pagan rituals combine the red water from Chalice Well with the white water from the White Spring.

The White Spring is behind the blue door of a reservoir built around a hundred years ago.

The White Spring is behind the blue door of a reservoir built around a hundred years ago.

It only took five minutes to drive from our Glastonbury Tor viewpoint to Chalice Well. We visited for about a half hour and then drove another five minutes to the town of Glastonbury where we explored the ruins of the famous abbey. And that will be the topic of my next posting.

Posted in London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London 2013: From Stonehenge to the Isle of Avalon

It took an hour an a half to get to Stonehenge from London and after our 45 minute stay there we drove for another hour and a half to our next stop — Glastonbury Tor,  a high hill crowned with an old tower, the only remnant left of a medieval church named St Michael’s. The Tor (Saxon for “hill”) is just east of the town of Glastonbury in Somerset County, a portion of southwest England that lies below Wales.

Glastonbury Tor and tower, the ruins of a 12th century church.

Glastonbury Tor and tower, the ruins of a 12th century church.

During the ride our tour guide, David, entertained us with stories about Somerset — its ham, its apples and its most famous food: cheese from the village of Cheddar. He also talked about the time period when the Saxons formed their kingdom of Wessex and fought off the Danes for hundreds of years until England was unified in the tenth century and Wessex then disappeared as a political entity. And then he talked about King Arthur and Merlin and the Isle of Avalon and what happened to this part of the country after the Romans left (around 410 AD) and before the Saxons moved in (about a hundred years later).

Glastonbury Tor is believed to be the Isle of Avalon of Arthurian legends.

Glastonbury Tor is believed to be the Isle of Avalon of Arthurian legends.

David was preparing us for the New Age we would experience at our next two stops: Chalice Well and the town of Glastonbury and its once-famous Abbey, in ruins for the last  500 years.

According to most of the Arthurian legends King Arthur was killed at the Battle of Camlann in 537 AD and his body was whisked away to the Isle of Avalon (derived from the old Welsh word for apples). The general consensus is that this mysterious isle was in reality Glastonbury Tor, which was once an island (about 2,000 years ago) and was probably a peninsula during the time of Arthur.

The story of King Arthur is often intermingled with the legend of the Holy Grail, a chalice filled with the blood of Christ which was brought to Avalon by Joseph of Arimathea, a biblical character who offered his own tomb for Christ’s burial. The two stories get somewhat muddled when it is sometimes forgotten that Joseph and Arthur lived about 400 years apart.

The two legends expanded over the centuries and were very popular in France until brought back to England after the Norman conquest. In my next two postings we will see how the Holy Grail story affected Chalice Well and how the Arthurian legend ties in to the history of Glastonbury Abbey.

Sign near our viewpoint at the base of the hill.

Sign near our viewpoint at the base of the hill.

xx

Glastonbury Tor is under the care of the National Trust.

About 50 years ago the counterculture came to Glastonbury and there was a renewed interest in Glastonbury Tor when it was determined that a ley line from northeast to southwest England crossed right over both the Tor and several other places, all with churches dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, the Christian version of the ancient gods who dwelled on hills and protected the people who lived below.

Some people say that the terraces that lead up to the top of Glastonbury Tor were built during the time of Stonehenge. The Celts who lived in this area before the Romans came believed in fairies and Gwyn ap Nudd, the King of the Fairies lived atop the Tor. Some people say that Merlin the wizard lived here, too. There are other stories about mysterious tunnels that connect Chalice Well and Glastonbury Abbey with the Tor. And they say that the monks of Glastonbury who found the tunnels went mad.

Some people have climbed to the top of Glastonbury Tor and claimed that they entered another world parallel to ours. Others have sighted several UFOs.   A lot of the people who came here in the 1960s are still here. There are about 10,000 people in Glastonbury or nearby villages today. And in late June of nearly every year since the 70s more than 100,000 people come to the Glastonbury Music Festival near the village of Pilton, about three miles east of Glastonbury Tor. Last year they came to hear the Rolling Stones. In recent years they saw Bono and U2, Bruce Springsteen, Nora Jones, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Neil Diamond, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, The Who, Shirley Bassey and many others.

Millennium stone at the base of Glastonbury Tor (Moneybox Field).  The stone also serves as a milestone -- Wells is eight miles away. the design looks like one of the famous scissors arches in Wells Cathedral.

Millennium stone at the base of Glastonbury Tor (Moneybox Field). The stone also serves as a milestone — Wells is eight miles away. The design over the bell looks like one of the famous scissors arches in Wells Cathedral.

David asked if anyone wanted to walk to the top of the hill. No one was interested and so we drove off to our next stop, Chalice Well, only five minutes away at the western base of the hill near the sprawling grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. That will be the subject of my next posting.

Posted in London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London 2013: Our Bus Trip to Stonehenge

We saw the sunrise only once during our London stay. That was the day (Friday, September 27th) we took a long, long ride on a mini-bus to Stonehenge and a few other places in southwest England.

xx

Sunrise from hotel window down the hallway from our room on the 12th floor.

We were told to be in front of the Cumberland Hotel near the Marble Arch by 7:30am and so we were, giving ourselves 45 minutes for the Tube Central Line trip during the morning commute. But we made it in 22 minutes, allowing some time to meet some of our fellow passengers before pouring into a mini-bus with 12 other people plus David, our driver / tour guide for the day. Joining us were a couple from Texas, another from Southern California, another from Canada, a mother and daughter from Minnesota, two young British women and two other young women who sat across from us and never opened their mouths once to speak to anyone except each other. So I don’t know where they were from but I doubt they spoke English very well.

This particular bus tour was not our first choice. We had wished to go to Salisbury to see their great cathedral and then on to Bath to see their Roman ruins but that trip was all booked up by the time we went online to the Viator website to book our excursion. So we joined the Stonehenge-Glastonbury-Avebury tour.

We didn’t know it then but more than half of the next twelve hours would be spent on this bus. Our driver David was very knowledgeable and had a gift of gab and so kept us entertained during the hour and a half trip to Stonehenge. We learned a lot about the history of Stonehenge including stories about the modern-day Druids who flock to the sacred site during summer solstice. We were a bit disappointed, though, when he decided to take a short-cut and so we were not allowed to see Stonehenge from far-off on the main road approach.

We were also disappointed with our tour guide when we arrived at Stonehenge. David gave us our entrance vouchers, told us to get back to the bus in 45 minutes and promptly disappeared. We noticed that other tour guides stayed with their groups, leading them around the stones and pointing out various things about the environs. David probably covered everything on the bus that the other tour guides did on site but it wasn’t the same. Besides, I believe I dozed off once or twice during the trip and so missed some of his narrative.

xx

This sign stands at the visitor entrance.

xx

Map and timeline of Stonehenge Down.

xx

Believe it or not but Stonehenge is older than I.

Stonehenge is roped off and we were not allowed to deviate from the path as we walked around the monument. During our walk I took 58 pictures and most of my photos probably look like everyone else’s. Here are my nine best:

xx

I used my 24-105mm zoom lens today. This shot was taken at 45mm.

xx

The large sandstones are local but the smaller bluestones, some as heavy as four tons, came from a place in Wales about 150 miles away. 24mm.

xx

This one was cropped for effect. 40mm.

xx

There are about as many stones laying on the ground as there are standing up. 24mm.

xx

I think most scenes are more interesting when people are in them. 47mm.

xx

Exactly how and why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery today. 85mm.

xx

I wish I was here at sunrise. 28mm.

xx

People began building Stonehenge about 5,000 years ago.84mm.

xx

Back near the beginning of our walk around the monument. 28mm.

On our way back to the bus I took these shots of murals along the walled ramp back to the small visitor center and parking lot. The visitor center we saw was not much more than a souvenir shop and some rest rooms. I understand that a new visitor centre has recently opened that is about a mile away from the stones and the one we saw will be torn down soon.

xx

An artist’s idea of what Stonehenge may have looked like 4,000 years ago.

xx

An idea of the manpower needed to put the huge stones in place.

After Stonehenge we drove west to Glastonbury, which is in Somerset County, a tad south of Wales, and will be the subject of my next four postings.

Posted in London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

London 2013: Trafalgar Square

Our final destination on our walk from Brompton Road in Knightsbridge to Buckingham Palace and The Mall was Trafalgar Square, a popular tourist attraction (rated # 124 out of 1016 attractions in London by Tripadvisor) in the heart of London.

At the intersection of The Mall and Spring Gardens we caught our first glimpse of Nelson's Column and the steeple of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

At the intersection of The Mall and Spring Gardens we caught our first glimpse of Nelson’s Column and the steeple of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Plans for the square were developed in the early 19th century and the initial name was going to be King William the Fourth’s Square but it was later decided to name the square after the famous battle off Spain’s Cape Trafalgar in 1805 where Lord Horatio Nelson’s British fleet defeated that of Napoleon.

Nelson's Column is 170 feet (52 meters) high and the statue of the admiral is three times life size.

Nelson’s Column is 170 feet (52 meters) high and the statue of the admiral is three times life size.

Nelson’s Column was added to the middle of the square in 1843 to honor the admiral who was killed during the battle.  The four lions were added in 1867. The square soon became a popular spot for both demonstrating and celebrating.  Fountains were added to the square in the 20th century to lessen the space for rioters. They have become very popular, especially in hot weather.

One of four lions at the base of Nelson's Column.

One of four lions at the base of Nelson’s Column.

Another lion and St Martins-in-the-Fields. That's King George IV on his horse occupying the north-east plinth.

Another lion and St Martins-in-the-Fields. That’s King George IV on his horse occupying the north-east plinth.

Relaxing on the base of the column.

Relaxing on the base of the column.

Relief at the base of Nelson's Column depicting the death of the war hero during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when the British navy defeated Napoleon's fleet.

Relief at the base of Nelson’s Column depicting the death of the war hero during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 when the British navy defeated Napoleon’s fleet.

Plinths were designed in each of the square’s four corners to display statues of famous people. King George IV on horseback stands on the north-east plinth. Two generals who spent most of their careers in India — Sir Charles James Napier and Sir Henry Havelock — occupy the two southern plinths. The fourth (northwest) plinth was vacant for more than a 150 years.  In 1999 it was decided to reserve the plinth for displaying contemporary art. Currently on display is a bright blue cockerel created by German artist Katharina Fritsch.

Henry and Geraldine, our Irish cousins, pose in front of the west fountain and the fourth plinth.

Henry and Geraldine, our Irish cousins, pose in front of the west fountain and the Fourth Plinth.

The west (Jellicoe) fountain, dolphin-mermaid-triton sculpture, steps and terrace in front of the National Gallery. The pedestrian terrace came into being in 2003.  Before that there was a one-way motorway that surrounded the square.

The west (Jellicoe) fountain, dolphin-mermaid-triton sculpture, steps and terrace in front of the National Gallery. The pedestrian terrace came into being in 2003. Before that there was a one-way motorway that surrounded the square.

Picture-taking at the Fourth Plinth. The contemprorary art on the plinth usually rotates every 18 months.  Next year a horse skeleton will replace the Blue Cockerel.

Picture-taking at the Fourth Plinth. The contemporary art on the plinth usually rotates every 18 months. Next year a horse skeleton will replace the Blue Cockerel.

Big Ben appears in the background in this view of Nelson's Column.

Big Ben appears in the background in this view of Nelson’s Column.

The National Gallery is directly north of the square and St Martins-in-the-Fields church, famous for its free lunchtime concerts, stands east of the National Gallery. South of the church and directly east of the square is South Africa House. Canada House is west of the square. The Grand buildings, formerly the Grand Hotel, stand south of the square between the Strand and Northumberland Avenue.

Side view of the National Gallery from the steps of St Martins-in-the-fields. I visited inside the church for a few minutes but was not allowed to take any photographs because the choir was rehearsing for Evensong.

Side view of the National Gallery from the steps of St Martins-in-the-fields. I visited inside the church for a few minutes but was not allowed to take any photographs because the choir was rehearsing for Evensong.

View of the square with the column and the two north plinths -- from the steps of St Martins-in-the-fields. Canada House is the building behind the Blue Cockerel.

View of the square with the column and the two north plinths — from the steps of St Martins-in-the-Fields. Canada House is the building behind the Blue Cockerel.

Some people come to Trafalgar Square to meet and then depart for other landmarks nearby. Others come just to people-watch. And it’s easy to find. Some of London’s major streets — Whitehall, the Strand, The Mall, Charing Cross Road — culminate at the square. Thousands of Londoners come to the square every Christmas season to witness various Christmas ceremonies including the lighting of a large Christmas Tree. And thousands more come every New Year’s Eve to celebrate.

The view to the left of the column: the rear end of King George's horse, a Scots bagpipes busker, Victoria Tower (center background), and several people surviving with their mobile phones.

The view to the left of the column: the rear end of King George’s horse, a Scots bagpipes busker, Victoria Tower (center background), and several people surviving with their mobile phones.

The square used to be the home for more than 35,000 pigeons but several laws have been passed during the last 15 years banning pigeon feeding and there are very few pigeons left. During our stay we saw a few visiting the Blue Cockerel on the Fourth Plinth but that was all.

A silver cowboy stands quietly at the edge of the square (near South Africa House) staring at the world passing by.

A silver cowboy stands quietly at the edge of the square (near South Africa House) staring at the world passing by.

The area around Trafalgar Square used to be called Charing Cross and there still is a Charing Cross Station where we caught the Tube to get back to our hotel in Stratford City.

Posted in London, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment