Friday, 10 October 2008 This morning I take a short walk toward town to get a photo of Bootham Bar, which I'd neglected
yesterday. A double-decker tour bus is parked right where I want to shoot from, and I ask the driver how long he's going to be there.
He invites me to take my shot from upstairs on the bus. Bus drivers are nice people. I get one blurry photo through the window, then
realize the back is open. Before I can get back there, another double-decker pulls up alongside, blocking my view. Damn bus drivers.
I'm bound for Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales today, not a great distance. I see three more abbeys on the way. You might think that after a while, they all start to look the same, and to some extent, I'm starting to agree. But these three could not be more different from one another in their circumstances.
Fountains Abbey, just outside Ripon, is a National Trust property, rather than English Heritage, so I have to pony up £7.90 to get in. (I get free entry to EH properties as a member of Historic Scotland.) The fee is justified--this is the largest and best-kept abbey I've seen, with extensive grounds and gardens, largely the result of landscaping done under private ownership in the 18th century. I think the main church is about as large as any of the cathedrals I've seen. Fountains was a very successful and wealthy operation. And I learn here that that wealth was a major factor in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, something I've been wondering about. Certainly religious conflict was at the heart of it, as well as concern over the loyalty of monasteries that owed allegiance to mother houses in France. But much of the rationale for shutting them down seems merely pretext for a naked property grab. The presumably ascetic monks had control of a considerable portion of Britain's land and resources, and Henry VIII was led to believe that if he could seize these, he would have no need of ever taxing the citizenry again. That turned out not to be the case, of course.
I marvel at the remains of the abbey church and adjacent buildings. The Cistercian monks (or perhaps more properly, their lay brethren, who did the bulk of the labor) built the place out of a virtual swamp, and turned unwanted land into a sort of paradise. The 18th-century landscaping includes an amazing water garden along the valley, and I do my best to appreciate it--my back is still bothering me quite badly, and ultimately I give the place rather less attention than it deserves.
Jervaulx Abbey, at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales, is quite another thing. Not only is it much smaller, it's in private hands. There's no staff on hand when I arrive, just an "honesty box" into which one is asked to drop £2. (I do it gladly...after all, they let me take pictures.) The lawn is neatly trimmed, but wildflowers and other vegetation have been allowed to run rampant over the ruins. It seems a bit shocking at first; English Heritage would be embarrassed to have a property in this state. But there is an air of romance about the place, and it's certainly photogenic.
Easby Abbey [Wikipedia], close by Richmond at the mouth of Swaledale, belongs to English Heritage, who do not bother to charge admission. It was a Premonstratensian house, like Dryburgh; unlike that lovely spot in the Scottish Borders, it seems small and rather undistinguished. I struggle to find anything interesting about it to photograph. They may not all look the same to me yet, but some could easily be given a miss.
The forecast for today had been for rain, and I'm lucky that I've had good sunshine up to this point. As I head up Swaledale toward Reeth, drizzly cloud finally pulls over. I find my B&B and walk across the green to the Black Bull, where I'm reacquainted with some locals I haven't seen in several years, including the landlord, Richard, and his wife Kim and daughter Kirstie (hope I spelled that right).
The Battlefield Band are to play this evening in Reeth Memorial Hall, just up the street. The Buck is the closest hotel to the hall, so I stop in there forty-five minutes before showtime to have a pint. I'm thinking it's entirely possible that band members Alasdair White and Mike Katz will be propping up the bar, and so they are. I reintroduce myself to them, being out of context and all; they are gracious enough to at least pretend to remember me from numerous shows at the Iron Horse in Northampton, Massachusetts. We are joined for a wee blether by the sound man, Rob van Sante.
I take my leave of them to catch the opening duo, two talented young lads named Andy May and Calum Stewart. Perhaps one of them will be a Battie some day, when young Alasdair is the grand old man of the band.
Before the show, the hall's program director made note of the common practice of nipping down to the pub for a quick one between sets, and I figure it's only good form to observe local custom. I toss down a pint at the Buck in pretty good order, but when I return to the hall, the Batties are already underway. There are several other people in the vestibule, waiting for the first piece to end before entering. One woman introduces herself as Rob the sound man's wife, and we have a chat before getting our break.
The lads are in good form. At intermission, the Buck is quite crowded, so I skip across to the Kings Arms for a pint of Black Sheep. It's a small village, and the three pubs are about fifteen seconds' walk apart. I'm back in plenty of time for the second set. The show ends with Andy and Calum joining in for a set of tunes.
The lads are staying at the Black Bull, and I'm privileged to chat and swap rounds with them long after the front door is locked. Well into the wee hours, Rob turns to me, and, sotto voce, professes his undying admiration for the barmaid. It's a sentiment I readily admit to sharing; she's a lovely young woman with dark hair and classical features, and, even more alluring, a quiet air of dignity and grace, attributes which frankly are in short supply hereabouts. I feel it important, however, to keep things in proper perspective.
"I met your wife at the hall," I tell Rob, in as casual a tone as I can muster. "She's very nice."
He stares at me a moment, then laughs out loud. It is, after all, no more than beer-soaked blether between boys.