Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Magnificence of Ely Cathedral and Visiting the Village of Grantchester

Wednesday, October 13, 2016

Waking and Wondering:
     Fort the first few minutes, when I awoke in my giant four-poster bed in the Parlor Room in the Fellows' Wing at Trinity College, Cambridge, I actually wondered where I was! Then, when it slowly dawned on me, I sighed and lay back and savored the next few seconds. It is blissful--to have this deep sense of contentment that comes from gratitude--gratitude for the incredible opportunities that have brought me to this place and enabled me to participate in its special privileges.
     Not too much later, I hopped out of bed and got ready for a shower. The clock on the Tower Gateway leading to the Chapel in the Main Quadrangle of Trinity chimed 8.00 am. There was no time to waste as I wanted to cover a lot of ground. My coach back to London was scheduled to leave Cambridge at 5.00 pm--I had better get a move-on.
     After I showered, I packed all my belongings into my little overnight bag, made sure I had left nothing behind, locked the door of my room behind me, and left down the beautiful narrow corridor (once the servants' quarter, no doubt) to the lower floors along a gorgeous dark wood broad staircase with its dazzling brass chandelier (very American colonial) to the Fellows' Dining Hall. This was still empty but I could hear sounds of clattering crockery and low voices from the floor below. This was the Dining Hall and it was here that I would eat a splendid breakfast.

Breakfast in Trinity College Dining Hall:
      Trinity College Dining Hall is presided over by a giant portrait of Henry VIII. its founded, gazing forbiddingly at the diners below--in the manner of the famed portrait by Hans Holbein.  By his side are his daughters Mary Tudor and Elizabeth. The sides of the Hall are filled with portraits of its Masters through the ages--with Nobel economist Amartya Sen very easily discernible.
     I placed my bags down on the floor at one of the long tables where dozens of students were already eating hungrily and made my way to the 'Servery' where I decided to have a Full English Breakfast--fried egg (although I do not eat a runny yolk), sausages, bacon, grilled mushrooms and tomato, hash browns and instead of toast, I picked up a croissant with butter. The steward very gallantly offered me a glass of OJ and with it, I took my tray out to the Hall where I helped myself to coffee and condiments. It was all very orderly and as I tucked into my brekkie, I contemplated my plans for the day ahead. They would take some ingenuity on my part as I wished to see and do a lot in very little time. So without lingering too long over brekkie, although I would dearly have liked to stay in such august surroundings, I reluctantly stashed my tray and other paraphernalia and left.
     I then left my bag behind in the storage cupboard in the Porter's Lodge at Trinity and made my way on foot to the Drummer Street Bus Station to take a bus to Ely (pronounced 'Eelee'), the little town about 40 miles away from Cambridge and home to one of the UK's most spectacular cathedrals.

On the Train to Ely:
     Except when I got the bus station, I discovered that the next bus was about 25 minutes later and that it took about 50 minutes to get to Ely. Well... I did not have that kind of time to I made a lightning decision to try the railway station instead. Taking directions again from a very kind man who actually escorted me to the stop, I found a bus that would take me to  Cambridge Train Station (as it is quite out of the way from the main city buildings). There I found a train leaving in just 10 minutes that  would arrive in Ely in 15 minutes--so it was a win-win situation all around and for a return journey of 4.50 pounds, off I went hurtling into the Cambridgeshire countryside. I marveled at the fallow fields I passed and the little villages that dotted them with a lone church spire rising occasionally to announce Christian habitation.

Arrival at Ely and Visit to the Cathedral:
     Once I arrived at Ely station, I asked for directions and went off on foot to find the Cathedral.  It was actually pretty easy to find as the spires of the cathedral tower above the city. A girl at the station pointed me in the right direction uphill and, in about 15 minutes, I was at the Cathedral Close. But before I got to the main door, I was struck by its architecture which is rather different from most English cathedrals. Instead of pointed spires, for instance, it has rounded ones--several of them. The Sculptural decoration on the outside is noteworthy for its complexity and I was repeatedly struck by it. Adjoining the cathedral is the Old Palace of Ely which was once occupied by the powerful Bishops of Ely--today it is a local parochial school.
     You go through a very old small wooden door to enter the cathedral which, in the West Wing, completely dwarfs you by its soaring ceiling in which the figure of Christ is beautifully painted. Then, as you go deeper into the long Nave, you are struck by a most unusual ceiling--different from anything I have seen in any other cathedral. It is entirely painted with depictions of the prophets and scenes from the Bible in a Medieval style which looks surprisingly fresh and new--this probably has to do with more recent refurbishments. There is a lovely sliding mirrored table that the visitor can wheel along the Nave in order to see the paintings reflected in it (they have a similar contraption at Banqueting House in London to enable one to admire the grand painted ceiling by Rubens). I paused to take a close look at those paintings without straining my neck.
     Past the Nave, the visitor arrives at the most architectural fascinating part of the Cathedral--the Octagon. You will need to raise your neck to gaze at the eight-sided ceiling--a combination of wood and stone--to take it its finely painted interior that glows in rather unusual colors for a cathedral--soft pinks, blues and apricots. It is absolutely beautiful and but for the threat of getting a crick in your neck, you will want to gaze at it forever. On either side of the Octagon are two more Wings--that imitate the shape of a cross: these have stunning timbered ceilings that are (again, most unusually) seemingly held up by superbly-painted angels with a wide arm span. These are some of the features of the cathedral that make it completely different from any other that I have ever seen (and I have seen a whole host of them, over the years).    

The Shrine of St. Etheldreda and the Lady Chapel:
     Just past the Octagon, one goes through the Choir Screen (again, a masterpiece of Medieval metal craftsmanship) and passes by the beautifully carved choir stalls. Just past them, one encounters a little shrine that is given pride of place in the cathedral--it is the Shrine of St. Etheldreda who in 973 founded an abbey on the site of the cathedral and spent her lifetime in holy activity despite enormous harassment from contemporary political forces. She is buried under the shrine and although it was once a very popular site of Christian pilgrimage, devotion to her seemed to have diminished in ferocity. St. Etheldreda's Church at Ely Place at the end of High Holborn (near Holborn Circus) which was once my parish church when I lived in that part of London, is named after her as it was the Bishops from Ely who arrived in London in the 1100s to found the church that still carries her name.
       I noticed closely the gilded reredos (altarpiece) by going really close to it and then took a side exit into one of the side aisles to admire the many funereal carvings, sarcophagi and sculpture that make Medieval cathedrals so atmospheric. I saw knights fully clothed in armor standing by their coffins, courtiers in full regalia leaning, almost seductively, against their own coffins, effigies of kings and queens and knights and their ladies lying down on top of theirs. On the floor, there are brass inlays (it is possible to get rubbings of any of these) and on the fan vaulted ceiling, there are bosses (carved stone disks that depict saints or Biblical symbols such as lilies, sheep, etc.). I skirted around the altar and walked over on the other side which was when I came across the Chapel to Our Lady.
     Almost every Cathedral has its 'Lady Chapel' but this is the largest one in the UK. It is surrounded by intricate stone carvings that form individual seats for the prelates of the church. The sculpture of Our Lady itself in an unexpectedly modern one.
      When  I emerged back in the Nave again, I knelt down to a say a prayer when a voice came over the PA system inviting all visitors to join in a few moments of prayers that were conducted by one of the canons. When they ended, movement across the cathedral continued again. Many people had arrived in small tour groups and they were receiving guided tours of the cathedral. Others signed up to take a Tower Tour which offered, I am sure, superb views of the surrounding countryside. There is a very good and very informative leaflet available at the entrance that one of the assistant hands out. With it, I was able to take a very good self-guided tour of the place.
     Outside, the visitor can spend a great deal of time taking in what remains of the Cloister as well as the other medieval administrative buildings that are still in use by the clergy. I, however, did not have too much time to do this as I wished to take the 11. 52 train back from the station to Cambridge. However, before I left, I asked one of the assistants if she could tell me of any other significant places in Ely that I should not miss. She told me that right across the park from the Cathedral Close was the home of Oliver Cromwell and that it was open to visitors. So off I went in search of it.

Visiting Oliver Cromwell's Home:
     Oliver Cromwell, the puritan who called himself Lord Protector and overthrew the monarchy in 1642 to usurp the British throne, is one of those historical figures that the British do not seem to know whether to revere or revile. His rule lasted until 1660 when the political 'Restoration' brought King Charles II out of exile in France and re-established royal rule in the country.
     His home in Ely is a lovely half-timbered cottage with stucco walls that have been turned into a museum. When I entered the place, I found that there is an entry fee and a guided house tour that goes with it. As I was the only person there, they would wait for a while before more visitors arrived to give the tour. In the meanwhile, I was invited to browse in the shop.
      Of course, I did not have the time to do that and thanking the assistant, I left to walk briskly to the station to get my train back to Cambridge. I made it in good time, caught the 11. 52 to Stanstead "calling at" Cambridge which was the first stop and where I reached in 15 minutes. My next port of call was Grantchester Village and I had to find out exactly how to get there.    
Trying to Find My Way to Grantchester:
     I walked to the local bus station to find out if there was a local bus that would take me to Grantchester and was told that I would need to get to the City Center and take a bus from the Drummer Street Bus Station there. I was also advised to buy a Day Travelcard from the driver which would make my entire journey more economical.
     There was nothing else to do but wait in an icy and very fierce wind that seemed to whip out of nowhere to torment passengers at the stop. Mercifully, the bus arrived in 10 minutes and I clambered on. At Drummer Street, I caught the 18 bus that then took me to Grantchester where, the driver said I would reach in about 15 minutes.
     Why was I going to Grantchester? Well, for two reasons: when I was in the seventh standard in my convent school in Bombay, I had became aware of the poem by the war poet Rupert Brooke called 'The Old Vicarage Grantchester' which is simply filled with country images of Nature and folks who go about their lives in a kind of bucolic stupor. It has always stayed with me as did the final two lines of the poem: "Stands the church clock at ten to three/ And is there honey still for tea?" How could one not conjure up images of quiet happy serenity in the midst of crazy crowded Bombay, when reading those lines? Of course, I had no idea that Grantchester was a little village outside the university city of Cambridge and I think I really got to know that fact only very recently.
     However, the second reason I chose to visit was because Llew and I have become fans of a detective TV show called Grantchester that is shown on PBS in the US. It features the Vicar of the parish church, Sidney Chambers(played by the handsome and brilliant James Norton), who gets involved in local murder mysteries which he helps solve with is friend, the local Inspector Geordie Keating (played by the handsome and brilliant Robson Greene). Set in the 1950s, the series of detective short stories was penned in the early 1900s by James Runcie. The idyllic village is very much a part of the series and local residents have often been invited to feature as extras in it.
     I was keen to see the extent to which the village is accurately depicted and to find the source of Brooke's great idealism. Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed the short bus ride that took me out of Cambridge and into the quiet country lanes and then country roads that led to Grantchester. A sweet lady told me where to get off and then pointed me in the direction of the church made famous by Brooke.

Discovering the Village of Grantchester:
     I hopped out of the bus and turned a corner past one of  a set of lovely thatched roof cottages and found myself on the High Street. This really is a misnomer for the village could not be quieter or less low-key. You pass The Green Man pub and The Red Lion Inn (does not every village in the UK have a pub and an inn so-named?) and walk along the street towards the church whose tower you can see from the top of the street. All along are lovely period houses with stucco walls and rambling roses and country gardens filled with late-summer blooms.
     The Church of St. Andrew and St. Mary sits quietly again with not a sound surroundings its grave yards except for the hum of an occasional car that travels up the lane. Its clock, a feature that every visitor comes to see, now strikes the correct hour (after recent repair and refurbishment). A lone gardener was working in one of the graveyards when I passed by the War Memorial that carries the name of Rupert Brooke who died in 1915 in the midst of World War I. His famous poem, however, was penned in 1912 when he was stationed at a hospital in Berlin and was seriously ill. There, hot, sweating and in a feverish stupor, his mind took him back to happier days, when as a student at Cambridge University, he had taken lodgings in the Old Vicarage. Those years were engraved in his mind as a supremely happy time. He recalled lilacs that bloomed in spring right outside his window as well as the vast number of other flowers, birds, meadows, etc. that surrounded the village. All these find a place in his glorious poem, a link to which is to be found here:

    I entered the church and was struck by how dark it was. Few visitors had come on the day I arrived and, doubtless, there are plenty more during the summer. There are a lot of postcards and other tourist literature available at the entrance especially those proclaiming the role that the church is currently playing in the filming of the TV series. I knelt in prayer, then after a few minutes, toured the church to take in the varied features that do not make it much different from thousands of churches across the British Isles that sport similar features. Brooke died probably never knowing how firmly he had placed this church on the tourist and literary map. Once I left the church, I walked around the church yards (there are four of them) taking in grave stones that hail from several past centuries beginning with the 1600s.
     I had a bus to take back to Cambridge in about a half hour (there is only one bus per hour after 1.00 pm) , so I did not have much time to waste as I tried to find The Old Vicarage that Brooke had depicted so well. Being that it was a vicarage, I expected it to be near the church,; but, in fact, from making inquiries of a couple that were walking past, I discovered that there was a house further down the lane and past a snaky curve that belonged to Lord Jeffrey Archer (yes, the novelist) with some sculptures in the front garden that was probably the Old Vicarage.
     They also suggested I visit The Old Orchard Tea Room where there is a "museum". They did not tell me that it was a museum dedicated to Rupert Brooke or I might have gone there. Still, it was good to pass by it and to know, from later reading, that they still serve honey and bread at tea-time (in a silent tribute to the poet). I must also say, at this point, that when I had read the poem as a 12 year old, I had assumed that the honey for tea referred to sweetening one's tea with honey. I did not realize that it was a reference to spreading honey on bread to be eaten at tea-time! This, of course, is what the Old Orchard Tea Room offers--but I had no time to check it out.
    I found the Old Vicarage and saw the lovely bronze sculpture of Rupert Brooke in the front garden, wearing his soldier's garb, and looking ever like the idealistic young student who went gung-ho to World War I. I took pictures of the outside and of the gatepost that proclaims its literary antecedents--the Old Vicarage, it said.
     Then, pleased as Punch that I had managed to accomplish all that I set out to do, I walked back up the High Street, nipped for a minute into Manor Farm that dates from the 1300s and belongs to King's College, Cambridge, and then into The Green Man pub and The Red Lion Inn where recent filming of the Grantchester TV show has taken place. Just before I left, I walked behind the pub to get to the stile that leads to the Meadows and to the river where Sidney is often seen relaxing and picnicking with his lady love Amanda.
     Grantchester was truly a delight to survey. It is these unexpected and impulsive forays that I make to places like these that make my stay and my travels in England so special and so significant. The bus trundled along on schedule and in I went for another lovely drive through the countryside to arrive at Cambridge.

Last Few Stops on a Whirlwind Tour of Cambridge:
     By then it was about 2.45 and I had about an hour to see something else I had been meaning to cover--the Pepys Diaries in the Pepys Library at Magdalen (pronounced 'Maudlin') College. It was quite a bit of a walk from the Drummer Street bus station as Magdalen is one of those colleges that are outside the city center. However, the upside was that I got to pass right by the famous Round Church that I had never been inside or even seen before. I had no time to visit it, but I hurried on a bridge over the River Cam where dozens of punts were seen basking in the weak sunshine and entered the main entrance of Magdalen College where I followed signs that led to the Pepys Library--a rather plain looking but very elegant building that is jazzed up with tumbling baskets of bright fuschia.

Inspecting the Pepys Diaries in the Pepys Library at Magdalen College:
     There is no fee to peruse the Pepys collection--a vast personal library of books that were bequeathed to the college by the famous 18th century diarist who so vividly documented The Great Fire of London in 1666. I entered it and was taken by the quietness and neatness of the space. A couple from America were the only other visitors and I believe the man was an academic whose work covers Pepys.
     In addition to one of the volumes of Pepys' Diaries (there are several of them)  that are kept open and has a page turned each day, there is a vast collection of original musical scores as Pepys was a great lover of music and spent a lot of money buying original Medieval and Renaissance scores. He was a singer and devoted several hours to his passion. The library is filled with oil portraits of Pepys done at various times in his life and of the interesting manuscripts that are part of his collection, including nautical ones associated with Henry VIII's notorious ship, the Mary Rose and medieval artists' sketching books of birds. It is all quite fascinating indeed and had I more time, no doubt, I would have lingered longer.

Back to the Bus for Journey Home to London:
     I hurried back to Trinity College to pick up my bag from the Porter's Lodge, bought a postcard from one of the souvenir shops and then arrived at the Green where National Express picks up and drops off passengers. Considering how much I had managed to cover in just two days, I was not amazed that I felt as if I had spent a week in Cambridge. I was early by half an hour but in 15 minutes, along came my bus and into it I jumped. I got the covered front seats and enjoyed my journey back to London as the evening gave way to twilight and darkness fell over the land.
     In more ways than I can recount, my visit to Cambridge was marvelous and easily one of the most memorable experiences of my academic life. I felt deeply grateful to the Lord who has provided me with these sterling opportunities to garner memories that will dwell in my heart forever.
     I reached Victoria at 8.00 pm and since I had eaten my sandwiches on the bus, I did not need to organize dinner when I got home at 8.30 pm. I had a bit of ice-cream, however, and fell fast asleep as I was quite wiped out by my excursions.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...


1 comment:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Rochelle - it's wonderful what you achieve and pack in to your journeys - garnering information, seeing so much and travelling as easily as possible ... Ely is another place to visit ... while the Rupert Brooke poem - needs a longer read ... cheers Hilary