My first stop this morning was Coverham Abbey, just a mile or so past Middleham Castle. Middleham is an ancestral castle (in fact, the lords of Middleham were buried at Coverham Abbey), but I didn’t stop for it. I wish I'd had time to do so, as it's a large and interesting ruin. I slowed down for a bunch of racehorses being ridden by people in English racing silks and gear. I learned later that there's famous race course here.
I knew from my Internet research that Coverham Abbey was a private residence, that the people shouldn’t be disturbed, and that there were actual effigies of my ancestors on the grounds. So I drove up the manicured driveway, parked by a pasture gate, and walked in the gravel around an outbuilding and toward what seemed to be the house.
A young boy and girl were riding their bikes around the courtyard leading to their back yard/pasture. When the little dog barked at me in a friendly way, the mom came out to meet me. She was slim, blond, and about 6 feet tall. Maybe 35 years old at most. Certainly could have been a model!
I told her that I was a descendant of Ranulph Fitzrobert, Helewise deGlanville of Chester, the founder of the abbey, and a Neville, and perhaps 10 or 12 others buried on the grounds. My ancestors I'm sure are buried there:
- Helewise deGlanville of Chester d. 1195
- Ranulph fitzRobert, (m. Helewisa deGlanville) 1110-1185, Lord Middleham & Spennithorne. Buried in chapter house.
- Robert fitzRanulph, (m. Mary/Margery Bigod, burial unknown - perhaps at Coverham) 1180-1251, Lord Middleham & Spennithorne.
- Ralph/Randolph Neville, (m. Euphemia de Clavering - buried Staindrop, Durham) 1262-1331. Buried south side of altar.
- Sir Geoffrey Scrope 1273-1340, and wife Ivetta deRos 1290-1331
- Henry le Scrope 1312-1391, and wife Joan/Agnes, b. 1317
When I asked if it would be all right to take some pictures, she was very nice, and said to go through the gate, down the track, and up to the old church, and take as many photos as I liked. (So I did.)
She also did me the favor, and took one of my favorite photos of all time, which I've got in the header of this blog.
Robert and Ranulph, father and son, the subjects of the two effigies standing up by her garden wall, have a charming look about them. Most effigies are quite formal, and were probably made very much alike at a quarry, then customized to order by the family. As you see in the photo, these look very amateurish. I really love the goofy smile on the tall one. So I wonder if these effigies were meant to be replaced with more expensive, artistic works, or if some apprentice mason did the work. Eight hundred years later, we'll never know!
I walked past their flower/herb/vegetable gardens, under a plum tree casting its fruit, and turned at an ancient gatehouse, with a sheep byre inside. Straight out of a James Herriott book, I kid you not. There was a walking gate there, and plenty of fairly-fresh, or at least rained-upon sheep dung, which I had to pick my way over to get to the meadow in front of the church. I took several pictures from the top of the hill. Every direction was beautiful! Then I walked back. Just as I came back and closed the gate carefully, the family drove out in their Land Rover and waved. Guess they trusted me not to steal their ducks. Or the Porsche still in their courtyard. That farm and the restoration process must cost them millions, and everything was spotless and perfect. They must have a staff!
Then I drove out of the dale through the town of Bedale, toward the motorway. I stopped there for breakfast/lunch at noon, in a tea shop. I ordered Yorkshire rarebit and a pot of tea. It was fabulously good. There was toasted bread spread with mayo, some sautéed slightly salty mushrooms (maybe green onion or garlic), and then a thick layer of grated, melted Wensleydale cheese. Wow. Must make that at home. High calories, but well worth it. Besides, I could only finish one whole slice of the two large slices on the plate, so I wrapped the other half and had some for another meal!
Once on the motorway, I went pretty fast toward Durham County’s Castle Raby. I visited the Neville castle, lived in by my ancestors Ralph Neville I and Ralph Neville II), earls of Westmoreland, and their wives, Margaret Stafford and Joan Beaufort in the 1380s and onward. The castle is not a ruin, and is maintained as a palace with lots of artwork and expensive antique furniture, formal gardens, etc. Lord Barnard and his family live there, and only allow the public on certain days of the year. I timed my arrival very well, as there were only two more Sunday and Wednesday afternoons before closing until May. (I knew that from my Internet research.)
I also knew that some ancestors were buried or at least memorialized in Staindrop Church, a few miles away. Ralph Neville is buried there, and surrounded by the effigies of his first and second wives, whose tombs are actually elsewhere. So I went in there and took pictures. I even found more effigies than I’d hoped. Finding Euphemia deClavering and Isabella Neville -- serendipity! Better than chocolate!
I drove into Barnard Castle town about 4:50 pm, and the Tourist Information people were unwilling to try to book me a B&B as they closed at 5:00. They handed me a guidebook and said to go to a callbox or start walking up the street from door to door. So I hoofed it uphill, but every house that had a B&B sign had no vacancies. The one which hadn’t yet changed her vacancy sign said she’d just let her last room, but try across the street. So back across the street, and the lady said she was full, too, but would call around for me. No luck. But she’d just sent her family back to London (it was Sunday evening), and she could clean that room for me if I was willing to share a bathroom in the hall. Hey! Better than sleeping in the car next to sheep! Also, it was a very pleasant room, and she gave it to me for £26.50. Pure, clean, tobacco-free air, too. Very nice indeed.
Monday, September 18, 2006
After the obligatory English breakfast, I was off to the south. First stop: Thirsk, the home and headquarters for one of my favorite authors, James Herriott. (Real name: Alf Wight.) I had to park pretty far away because they were having a farmers’ market in the city square, and I took the one and only spot I could get. I found the storefront museum and gift shop. I started into the museum doorway, which was open, but a man stopped me and said to go to the shop first. I think the man was Herriott’s son Jim, because he seemed the right age and really looked like the author. Anyway, I didn’t want the whole museum thing, just the shop, as I was in a hurry. I bought a biography of Herriott, signed by the author, Herriott’s son. I wanted to see if there were any boxed sets of the books, and there were, but I’d never be able to afford the set and shipping them home, so I passed.
Next stop: south to the Peaks District National Park. There, in the villages of Tideswell and Wormhill, lived my ancestors, more than a hundred years and several generations of the Foljambes. I visited the Cathedral of St. John of the Peaks in Tideswell, and found the brass marker for my ancestor. He was under the floor tiles on the north side of the chancel/choir area. There are at least four Foljambe men buried there at the church, but they didn't have effigies or memorials in the church. I also got a bonus, though, because a Foljambe wife, and possibly his mother, had stone effigies in the north transept chapel! They were Catherine le Ayr and Alice deFurnival. Again, better than chocolate.
I drove through narrow vales and tunnel-like forests to Wormhill, which is just a few farmhouses with sheep and cattle. They have no post office, but they have a Victorian-era stone church and a red callbox, which I used to call Audrey and say I’d be arriving in Gloucester at 8:30 or later.
Driving west out of the park, are huge moors with sheep grazing on impossible slopes. Some of the road signs said 12% grade, 13%, and even 14%. That is really steep, but thankfully, they’re not very long grades. I don’t think I’ve been on anything marked higher than 8% in the U.S.
I stopped for a picture at a turnout, and saw a square stone tower on the hillside below. Perhaps it was a watchtower against raiders.
By this time, it was sunset, so I didn’t see much of the drive down the M5 as I headed for Gloucester. Negotiating the Glos streets is a complete puzzle to me every time, but at least now if I follow the signs for “historic docks,” I can get here without turning up any blind alleys.
Audrey squealed when she saw me, and we hugged. I gave her some of the presents I’d brought for her, and she loves them. There were CDs of Steve Darmody’s jazz album, and the King’s Heralds doing a capella spirituals. Also a DVD of US Senate Chaplain Barry Black speaking at Campus Hill Church.
We talked for a couple of hours, then headed for bed. I got her bed, and she took her son’s bed in the attic. The son Marcus is moving out to an apartment with his American fiancée who arrived a few hours later.