Bishops Visit – France and More – Limoges and the Three Villages

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Before going to bed we strolled through a very cold Limoges and viewed an old cathedral sized building which we believe has been transformed into a museum. The next morning in Limoges saw the weather changed to sunshine and light winds but the chill was still in the air. We took an early morning walk to the rail station waiting for the Bishops to arise. Warmer gear would be the order of the day.

Our plan was to visit three villages all part of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France)- Collonge la Rouge, Curemonte and Turenne.

Collonges-la-Rouge is entirely built with red sandstone. Its existence is proven since the 8th century thanks to the donation of the count of Limoges of the parish to the monastery of Charroux. The village is actually where this association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France was created.

The Saint-Pierre church, dating from the 11th, 12th and 15th centuries, is one of the oldest of the Limousin region, and was fortified during the 16th-century French wars of religion. The whole church has been a historical monument since 4 April 1905.

The fortified wall of the village dates back to the 14th century. The doors of the ancient priory are listed as historical monuments.

Curemonte is a medieval village characterised by its three castles. In a fortified position on a ridge overlooking a valley on both its eastern and western flanks, the village has historically had a strategic importance in the area. When we drove into the village we were forced to park on a ridge opposite the village where we enjoyed a picnic lunch despite the chill wind. The day was glorious – mellow sunshine and clear blue skies illuminating this ancient stronghold. Walking through the village felt like a ghost town. I guess many of the residents are holiday visitors. The three towers are in private ownership and no visitors allowed. In the warmer months I suspect the place would be alive with tourists. I think we got to see the village at its best without the maddening throng.

 

Turenne is a medieval village and castle characterised by its height and unique position on top of a cliff. The first lords of Turenne appeared in the 9th century. The town became a veritable feudal state after the Crusades and one of the great fiefs of France in the 14th century.

Turenne has seen a succession of four families of Viscounts. On 8 June 1738, Turenne was sold to Louis XV to pay the gambling debts of Charles Godfrey, the last of the Viscounts of La Tour d’Auvergne family. Thus ended the quasi-independence of this last French stronghold. The Viscounty’s subjects became subjects of Louis XV and were forced to pay taxes. The king also ordered the dismantling of the fortress of Turenne. As of the Revolution, Turenne was more like a seat of a royal provost.

We had some difficulty working out how best to gain access as the village sprawls up the side of a steep slope. I eventually just drove up risking the wrath of the locals but there was no objections until I wanted to come down when the no entry signs just had to be ignored if I was ever going to get Thistle out of there. Half way up was an interesting church – another Notre Dame.

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The remains of the castle and there was not much was closed. However it was still magical wandering through the village and viewing the valleys below. I even found evidence of an abandoned archaeological dig in the basement of one of the houses.

After navigating our way out of Turenne, we happened upon an old 11th century church under repair. It is apparently built on Roman foundations and therefore of historic interest. But it was not open which did not foil one intrepid member of our group.

Throughout this trip Kerry was doing 90% of the driving with me navigating. The lovely sunshine was so out of the ordinary that the result was a severe headache for Kerry and an early night with take away lamb sandwiches.

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Bishops Visit – France and More – Limoges and St Leonards de Noblat

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Limoges is the capital of the Haute-Vienne department and the administrative capital of the Limousin région in west-central France. To reach this regional centre we had to drive through some of the prettiest of French countryside. After the wide green fields, scattered forests and freshly ploughed paddocks of Dampierre it was vastly different to be climbing through the Central Massif, its small villages and woodlands. We arrived in the middle of the day and our apartments are located in the centre of the city but no one told us that our neighbour was the Benedictine Rail Station (Gare de Limoges Bénédictins). This huge station had innumerable lines running through it and numerous passenger trains of up to 30 cars in length going all night.

The apartment was not immediately identifiable but when I did find it there was no reception just the number 13 and a key pad. Reviewing the email booking we found that we collected the keys from 13 A – down an alley between buildings in a shoe shop. Then we found that our host was not adept with English more so than we were not adept with French. After a lot of hand signals and repetition we worked out that our apartments were at the top of two flights of stairs and that we had been given bigger apartments at the same price.

The apartments were newly renovated and very large and stylish. However the timber floor had not been laid properly and it squeaked with every footstep. Apart from this annoying issue the apartments appeared luxurious. Settled in we took a trip to St. Leonards de Noblat. Saint-Léonard church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. The day continued to be bitterly cold with gusting wind and barely noticeable snow flurries – Nerida and her prayers for snow.

The village itself was interesting with its many narrow streets and ancient buildings but it was too cold to continue exploring on foot. So I charted a return journey through the area north of Limoges and Tommy found every goat track known to man for this journey. It was pretty country side and pretty hair raising at times.

Kerry had sought assistance with directions to our apartment from the owner of a kebab shop a few doors from our apartment. He did not speak English – he is a Turkish Kurd so he spoke Turk, Kurd, and French but no English. A customer translated and although it did not help we decided to try his Lamb Sandwich for dinner. Well it was simple tasty wholesome food at very little cost. We returned again the following night.

After dinner Kerry and I took a walk through the city centre for so long as we could withstand the cold before retiring for the night.

Bishops Visit – France and More – Dampierre and Ancient Aulnay -de-Saintonge

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However we had an important stop to make. We had to visit Aulnay and the Church of St Pierre d’ Aulnay and view the ancient tower.

 

Aulnay, commonly referred to as Aulnay-de-Saintonge, is a French commune in the Charente-Maritime department in the Poitou-Charentes region of south-western France. The Church of Saint-Pierre d’Aulnay (12th century) is reported by Wikipedia to be “One of the finest surviving Romanesque churches. It is also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is unknown why the church was built so far from the town but it may be related to the site of an old cemetery along the Roman road. At the end of the 11th century the building that preceded it belonged to the Abbey of Saint-Cyprien in Poitiers who, around 1045, received part of the burial rights and wax offerings from the church as evidenced by a donation by Ranulfe Rabiole. Pierre II, Bishop of Poitiers, around 1100 confirmed the ownership of the church by the monastery and Pope Calixtus II followed his example in 1119. In 1135 however, the parish belonged to the Chapter of Poitiers Cathedral which retained its rights until the French Revolution. Papal bulls dated 1149 and 1157 list the Aulnay church in the list of properties of Canons who were calculating their costs. Numerous oriental influences can be seen in its designs. For example the first arc of the gate is inspired from Oriental designs. Designs of elephants also originate from Oriental designs. The Church contains several items that are registered as historical objects….”. For further information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aulnay,_Charente-Maritime.

 

We were told this church is on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, but apart from its obvious history we could not see evidence of the walk. So I went to Wikipedia and this is what it says ” They follow many routes (any path to Santiago is a pilgrim’s path) but the most popular route is Via Regia and its last part, the French Way (Camino Francés).” So I guess some pilgrims’ include it on their trip from Limoges (on the French Way see map at the follow link)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camino_de_Santiago_(route_descriptions)

The Viscounts of Aulnay (or Viscounts of Aunay) were descendants of other noble families in Poitou and Saintonge and lived in a castle which was demolished in 1818 but whose tower still remains. It is this tower near the town hall (Hotel de Ville) and its unusual coloured memorial to the soldiers of WW1 that we went to visit.

Part of the old Abbey remains but it now forms part of the centre of the village and a restaurant precinct where we had a slap up dinner as a thank you to our hosts that evening.

Bishops Visit – Interval – Haddon Hall

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Haddon Hall is an English country house on the River Wye at Bakewell, Derbyshire, one of the seats of the Duke of Rutland. It is currently occupied by Lord Edward Manners (brother of the current Duke) and his family. In form a medieval manor house, it has been described (in Wikipedia) as the most complete and most interesting house of its period. The origins of the hall date to the 11th century. The current medieval and Tudor hall includes additions added at various stages between the 13th and the 17th centuries.

The Vernon family acquired the Manor of Nether Haddon by a 13th-century marriage. Dorothy Vernon, the daughter and heiress of Sir George Vernon, married John Manners, the second son of Thomas Manners, 1st Earl of Rutland, in 1563. A legend grew up in the 19th century that Dorothy and Manners eloped. The legend has been made into novels, dramatizations and other works of fiction. She nevertheless inherited the Hall, and their grandson, also John Manners, inherited the Earldom in 1641 from a distant cousin. His son, another John Manners, was made 1st Duke of Rutland in 1703. In the 20th century, another John Manners, 9th Duke of Rutland, made a life’s work of restoring the hall.

Our visit started on an indifferent day as we travelled up the M1 to Chesterfield and past the Oasis Café (this is a café in a layby on the side of the road with porta potty dunnies but from the advertising you would expect an oasis) and on through Bakewell. Now our Tommy had a different idea on how to get there and unexpectedly told us to turn right into a rural lane headed up a wooded hill. We were travelling over a rough dirt track rutted from water with exposed rocks and questioning if Tommy knew where the hell it was taking us. The rain started to fall, the road deteriorated and we agreed that Tommy had been smoking something weird when an old Land Rover came over the hill rocking and rolling along the path. We hailed the driver who pulled up beside us. He was a local farmer very amused that we were well off track trying to find the Hall. He gave us directions which meant we had to turn around and go down the hill. Not good for our Thistle.

Once back on track we made our way to the carpark which is across a busy road from the original gatehouse. Once you pass through the gatehouse the grand old house appears before you. You cross over the bridge (of course it has its own watercourse in the front yard) and walk up the hill (it is a fortified manor house) in through the large gate in the house walls. On the way you pass the gate keeper’s house with the topiary in the front yard in the shape of a boars head the heraldic symbol from the Manners coat of arms.

In the court yard you are immediately aware that this is rustic with uneven paving and not the place for someone with a walking disability. And it continues to drizzle. We are looked at by grotesques from every direction (I am referring to the stone ornaments on the down pipes and spouts not the other tourists).

I visit the chapel whilst the others head into the manor house. The chapel floor is uneven and very worn but I got the feeling that everything was very original and was unchanged for centuries.

I went up to the manor house and on entering you either went left into the kitchens or right into the main hall or straight through to another courtyard. I caught up with Kerry and we went through the kitchens and the rest of the house. In the Long Gallery the table had been set for Xmas dinner. This is where the Lord and his family would have their Xmas lunch. The family does still live here and I hope the family apartments have been updated as this was cold and breezy. Everyone wanted to be close to the fire.

There were peacock feather garlands around the walls and on the tree. The real deal from real cocks. A miniature piano (not its correct description) stood in the gallery by the tree. It all seemed very homely. The door hinges were weird with the bottom hinge extending beyond the wall at the bottom possibly to hold the weight of the doors.

 

There was a tapestry room and a back door with what must have been the fore runner to the viewing hole in doors today. I ventured out into the gardens but no other brave soul would do so due to the rain and the cold. We then visited the internal courtyard which also showed us the family vehicle entrance. The courtyard was filled with vendors of coffee and confection but we had our thermos in the car so we bid adieu to Haddon Hall to partake of a cuppa. On the way out we visited the old washrooms where there is a small museum of bits and pieces discovered during renovations and restorations including a picture of the last supper.

Bishops Visit – Interval – London “Once” and the Imperial War Museum

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We all know Ronan Keating, from Boyzone and the X factor but did you know he appeared in the London musical “Once”. When we were in London earlier we saw posters announcing his appearance form November 17 in this production so we took the opportunity to visit London again to see the show and for Doug and me to visit the Imperial War Museum.

Now visiting London is always expensive. Expensive to park and to stay. Well we have worked out the parking. There is a website for private parking spots – people in London don’t always have a car but they do have a parking spot so these people act like a booking agency. The website is  www.justpark.com.

We stayed at the Commodore Hotel which is good value for money and well located at Lancaster Gate in easy walking distance of the underground of the same name. You can find it easily on the web.

The weather was fair enough for London in November. I convinced Doug that we could travel to the Museum via the underground, but be warned that it is a good 10 minute walk from Lambeth North station.

I have seen Les Invalides and Napoléon’s tomb, and now the Imperial War Museum however overall I don’t think either rivals Canberra’s Australian War Memorial. But this Museum impresses from the moment of arrival with a pair of huge naval guns staring at you as you enter. It is free to enter except for special exhibitions. Inside is a story book type of presentation with representational pieces from many different conflicts involving Great Britain. You could easily lose yourself for a day. It is well done. There is a very detailed section on the Holocaust which is very emotive and for some people much be gut wrenching.

Doug and I could only spare two and half hours before returning to the hotel to ready ourselves for “Once”

We decided to take a taxi into the West End. Our tickets were in the upper stalls giving us an aerial view of the stage. This is a musical where the orchestra is present on stage and their instruments are in keeping with the story which is essentially about a musician trying to launch a career, a lost love, motivation from another possible love interest, the trip to stardom and the choice between stardom and his mentor. The music is great and Keating surprises with a highly charged emotional performance from the heart. I left the theatre on a high and with a tear in my eye (much to the mirth of Kerry who made certain to bring it to everyone’s attention).

We caught a cab back to the hotel and requested the cabbie to go via Regent St for the Xmas lights. As with most London cabbies he knew what the girls wanted and took us through the whole gamete of London’s Xmas lights. So ended our trip to London but before we went I got a few snaps of an old church used as the basis for a new apartment block. Very dramatic.

Bishops Visit – Interval- De je vu – Southwell Minster

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Between returning from Scotland and leaving for France, we had a window of opportunity which I have called “the Interval”.

During these few days we visited Southwell Minster north east of Nottingham, Haddon Hall north west of Nottingham and London (I presume you know where that is). This blog concerns Southwell (pronounced “Suthull” by Nottinghamites and “South Well” by its residents – work that out). Norwell (pronounced “Norrell”) approximately eight miles northwest may support the notion of there being “south” and “north” wells in the area.

Southwell is a town in Nottinghamshire, best known as the site of Southwell Minster, the seat of the Church of England diocese that covers Nottinghamshire. The town lies on the River Greet, approximately 14 miles (22 km) northeast of Nottingham.

The early history of this Minster as noted by Wikipedia: “Eadwy of England gifted land in Southwell to Oskytel the Archbishop of York, in 956. Eadwy’s charter is the first dated reference to Southwell. Evidence of a tessellated floor and the 11th-century tympanum over a doorway in the north transept are evidence of the construction of the minster after this time. The Domesday Book of 1086 has much detail of an Archbishop’s manor in Southwell. A custom known as the “Gate to Southwell” originated after 1109 when the Archbishop of York, Thomas I wrote to every parish in Nottinghamshire asking for contributions to the construction of a new mother church. Annually at Whitsuntide the contributions known as the “Southwell Pence” were taken to the minster in a procession that set off from Nottingham headed by the mayor followed by clergy and lay people making a pilgrimage to Southwell’s Whitsun Fair. The Southwell Pence was paid at the north porch of the minster to the Chapter Clerk. The name of this custom – the Southwell Gate – derives from the Scandinavian word “gata” meaning street or way to. In its original form it persisted well into the 16th century. In 1981 Dolphin Morrismen revived the tradition.

Geoffrey Plantagenet was ordained as a priest at Southwell in 1189. On 4 April 1194, Richard I and the King of Scots, William I, was in Southwell, having spent Palm Sunday in Clipstone. King John visited Southwell between 1207 and 1213, ostensibly for the hunting in Sherwood Forest, but also en route to an expedition to Wales in 1212. The Saracen’s Head was built in 1463 on land gifted in 1396 by the Archbishop of York, Thomas Arundel, to John and Margaret Fysher. When built, the first floor overhung the roadway in the vernacular of the time.

In 1603, James VI of Scotland passed through Southwell on his way to London to be crowned King James I. During the English Civil War, King Charles I spent his last night as a free man in May 1646 in the Saracen’s Head (then the King’s Head), before surrendering to the Scottish Army stationed at nearby Kelham. The fabric of the town, the minster and Archbishop’s Palace suffered at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s troops, as they sequestered the palace as stabling for their horses, broke down monuments, and ransacked the graves for lead and other valuables. In 1793, iron rings fastened to the walls to secure the horses were still in situ. The end of the civil war left the Archbishop’s Palace in ruins apart from its Great Hall. It is reputed that Cromwell also stayed in the King’s Head.”

So you can see that this small town (around 7,000 people) has played a big part in bits of history of the UK. The Archbishop’s Palace was home to Cardinal Wolsey who was Henry VIII’s advisor and when unable to secure Henry’s divorce from Rome Wolsey hid out at Southwell until summons by Henry to London but fortunately for Wolsey he died on his trip back to a trial and execution planned by Henry.

The Saracen’s Head is still there. It changed its name from the King’s Head when Charles lost his head. So we visited the Minster and the pub. Whilst at the Pub we picked up this fascinating leaflet on the history of the hotel which told us more of the story of Charles I last meal than the dry facts given by Wikipedia. Remember that in 1642 Charles had raised his standard at Nottingham Castle to signal the beginning of the Civil War. By 1646 the Royalist Army had been all but defeated or surrendered. After the Battle of Naseby Charles realised he needed the Scots to help him defeat the Parliamentarians.

The leaflet told us that Charles escaped from London and went to the Inn disguised as a Clergyman with his clerk to meet with the Scottish commissioners then in Southwell Minster with a regiment of Scottish soldiers. You may recall in earlier blogs I have written about Cromwell’s son in law Henry Ireton and how he was negotiating with Charles around accepting a role as constitutional monarchy. Well the Scots were talking to Charles about supporting him if he accepted Presbyterianism as the religion of England and Ireland amongst other things.

So Charles revealed himself to the Scottish general and started negotiations to have the Scottish forces join his Royalist Army. However he prevaricated so much (as he was doing with Ireton) and refused to sign an agreement that the Scots who left Southwell and marched with Charles as their “prisoner” to Kelham outside Newcastle where they treated with Cromwell’s Parliamentary army and handed over Charles in exchange for 400,000 pounds. And, as they say the rest is history and Charles lost his head at Whitehall on January 30, 1649.

Whilst at the pub and we saw a copy of Charles I death warrant signed by Parliament and in particular Cromwell and Ireton. The leaflet says that as well as Charles I many other notable people stayed at the Inn, namely:

  • Lord Byron (who lived close by),
  • Cardinal Wolsey of course
  • Kings of England, Richard I, Richard II, John, Henry II, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Edward IV
  • King of England and Scotland James I
  • Charles Dickens – he was a very wide travelled individual as he has popped up as a visitor in many places we have been; and
  • The Beatles

So well worth a visit to this village and see the Minster (there are displays of the remains of an old Roman villa under the Minster visible, Saxon “bread” pews and Norman and Gothic architecture), the ruins of the Archbishops Palace and the restored Great Dining Hall and the Saracen’s Head (so named as the sword used to behead Charles was a Saracen sword)

Retirees Go Abroad – Who painted that picture of a Horse on the Hill – Wiltshire

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You may recall in my early blogs about Oxford and Cambridge that I had planned to visit the White Horse. Well we were going through Wiltshire on the way to Long Eaton so I thought we should not miss the opportunity. However, I was not aware how many little lanes and rabbit holes we would have to go down to see very little.

There was a cutting chill wind and driven rain coming down as we made our way to the site of the Horse. Finally upon arriving we walked to where we thought it would be only to find that we had walked in the wrong direction. Chilled to the bone we gave up the hunt when it appeared before us on the top of the opposite hill. Clearly it was a summer adventure with a cut lunch and you would climb up to it. Somewhat miffed we returned to Thistle and Kerry commenced to drive down to the entrance road when we spotted a hillock which may give me a picture opportunity at least.

I climbed out of Thistle, slip slided my way up a chalky path past amused black faced sheep and wiping the rain off my face. The top of the knoll did give me the slightest glimpse but after all was said and done the sheep and the valley below were more interesting than the unexplained White Horse.

Back in thistle Kerry asks “Where to now”

I reply “I have heard there is a roman amphitheatre in Cerincester and it is on the way home”. So that is what we did. It was still raining when we arrived in Cirecester. Cirencester the largest town in the Cotswold District in east Gloucestershire, England, 93 miles (150 km) west northwest of London. Cirencester lies on the River Churn, a tributary of the River Thames, and is known to be an important early Roman area, along with St. Albans and Colchester, and the town includes evidence of significant roman roadworks.”

Tommy had the amphitheatre recorded as a point of interest and took us directly to a Sainsburys Shopping Centre. Hardly a roman ruin! So with directions from the trolley boy we found the amphitheatre.

It was still raining and the ground soft under foot so we gingerly made our way through the gate and into a field. There appeared to be nothing but some mounded ground to mark where the amphitheatre once stood. Disappointing but there you go so we found a pub for lunch.

After lunch we planned to go straight home.