Bath Skyline Walk and Sham Castle

Maddie has become the resident expert of the Bath Skyline Walk.  She’s visited the trail over a dozen times, and was thankfully kind enough to act as my guide for my first excursion on the trail.  This was especially useful since the entrance can be a bit tricky to find.  She took me up to her favorite tree, where you can easily perch and see a gorgeous view of Bath laid out below you.

From there she showed me how to find Sham Castle, a famous landmark in Bath.  The structure is a facade of a castle, seemingly created purely for aesthetic reasons.  While certainly an oddity, it was beautiful to see the evening light fading on Bath from underneath it’s arch.

We ended our time with a stroll through a field back to the city.  It was a lovely time that blended the best that the city and the surrounding nature has to offer.

The British Film Institute and The Telegraph

My study trip for my UK Media in a Globalized World class involved a trip back to London.  We had two stops: the first at the British Film Institute and the second at The Telegraph.

At the BFI we had the opportunity to explore the online archives, where I found some fascinating older documentaries.  While definitely not politically correct, the documentaries provided a great deal of insight into the perspectives of the times, as the interviewees were quite open with their opinions and views.

Our second stop was at The Telegraph, a major English newspaper company.  Our tour guide was an older gentleman who had been in the business for over fifty years.  His enthusiasm for his job and the business of the newspaper was inspiring.  He explained to us that his heart pounds every day as he comes into work, just thinking about putting out the evening editions of the newspaper.  It was wonderful to see someone so passionate about their work.

Overall the outing was a great way to highlight British media, both through film and print.

Jane Austen Dancing: Take Five

My fifth Jane Austen dancing session was unique in that the event was divided into two parts.  The first half was dedicated to a costume workshop and demonstration, followed by the normal practice in the second half.

Jane Austen enthusiasts showed off all sorts of needlework and costuming, before beginning a wonderfully entertaining skit.  The costumes were amazing, and the skit itself did a great job imitating posh socializing of the time.  But perhaps the biggest highlight was Martin (one of the most photographed men in Bath for his reenactment work at the Jane Austen Centre) acting as the announcer for the arrival of the “guests” in the skit.  His booming voice was hilarious.

The regular practice was excellent as well.  As we only had half a section, we took no breaks.  And because most of the participants were regulars, more vigorous and difficult dances were used.  I was most definitely sweating by the end.  But we had the chance to perform two of my favorite dances: the sea shanty and the one with stomping (and I learned that the proper name for this latter dance is the College Hornpipe)!  It was another excellent session of Jane Austen dancing.

Bath World Heritage Day

Bath has a fascinating history connected to the Roman Empire, perhaps best represented by the Roman Baths themselves.  So the main highlight of Bath World Heritage Day was to demonstrate what this history would have looked like in context.

At the Royal Crescent, replica Roman military camps had been set up.  And where military supplies are, troops can’t be far behind…

Beyond were said Roman troops, who proceeded to demonstrate various aspects of their history, first showing off their uniforms and weapons before beginning some exercises.  One of the first was a series of javelin throws.

Several military formations were demonstrated, including the famously effective tortoise.

Then various long-range weapons were used, including bows, catapults, and ballistas.

The event ended by the dispersal of the troops, allowing us viewers to see them and their uniforms up close.

It was a fun opportunity to step back in time and learn more about the unique history of Bath in a visual fashion.

A Spring Break Reunion to Wells and Glastonbury

Becca, Maddie, and myself banded together for a day trip, initially planning for an exploration of Glastonbury, which Maddie had visited before on a study trip.  After consulting with Andrew, our wonderful internship advisor, we decided to also stop by Wells.  Day passes in hand, we boarded our bus in a similar fashion to our spring break bus tour.

After arriving in Wells, we briefly perused a local outdoor Saturday market before heading to the Bishop’s Palace.  Bounded by a wall and moat, the place was oddly similar to a castle.  From there we made our way to Wells cathedral, decorated with numerous carvings of religious figures.

We’ve visited many churches during our time in England, and have begun to notice all sorts of common design patterns.  But this cathedral was truly unique in its architecture, which featured incredible scissor arches.  While beautiful, the structure is very practical, as apparently it was created to prevent the building from sinking into the ground.

After viewing a clock that featured jousting, we walked up some wonky stairs (worn by untold numbers of footsteps) to an echoey meeting chamber.

We ended our cathedral exploration with a trip to the library, where an older gentleman excitedly showed us some of the features of the collection, including a section of chained books that resembled the Forbidden Section of Hogwarts.

As we left we stopped by the market to grab some snackage.  I picked up a Dorset Lardy Cake, which is every bit as unhealthy and delicious as you might imagine.  From there we made our way to the city of Glastonbury.  Our first matter of business was to make our way to Glastonbury Tor, a huge hill with a tower associated with King Arthur’s legend.  Unfortunately we got a bit lost, as Google maps apparently took us to a tor street rather than the actual tor.  Thus we got to see a hidden side of Glastonbury, which includes an industrial portion of town, and yaks.

After our warm up, we oriented ourselves properly to head to the Tor, which included a brief stop by a candlelit reservoir, apparently some form of spiritual gathering place.  After seeing some more livestock in the form of sheep (and lambs!) we eventually reached the hill and began our ascent.

The view was incredible, and we took a moment to simply sit at the top and admire our surroundings.

We then visited the Chalice Well, connected to all sorts of mythology.  This was a recurring theme of our visit to Glastonbury, as we saw so many sights connected to spirituality.  At some points walking around the town I felt like I had stepped back into the 70’s.  It was a whole different cultural experience.

We ended our stay by grabbing a pint of local cider by the 15th century George and Pilgrim pub, which Maddie visited on her study trip.  In fact, one gentleman recognized her!

We then began our bus ride back, having had another great day of exploring with the original spring break team.

 

Going to London

I took a Friday in April to finally explore London.  Nearly three months in England had passed, and I had only ever used London as a transient place to get back and forth from Bath.  I began my exploration by making a loop to cover the major iconic landmarks, starting with a walk down the Mall to view Buckingham palace.

I then took in the scenery around St. James’ Park, which was inhabited by all sorts of aquatic birds.

This then led me to Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and Big Ben.  Ish.  Big Ben is sadly unrecognizable, being absolutely smothered in scaffolding.  But the other iconic buildings have amazing exteriors.

After a walk along the River Thames, hopped on over to the British Museum, which was filled with all sorts of historic artifacts.  The Egyptian exhibit with its mummies was of course a major highlight.  I hadn’t realized how much Greek influence impacted the art of sarcophagus decorating post-Alexander.  I was also able to see artifacts like the Rosetta stone, and carvings for Sargon (They Might Be Giants and The Mesopotamians anyone?).  Depictions of ancient lion hunting were also fascinating.  The museum is huge, and you could probably spend days thoroughly perusing all the place has to offer, but I think I successfully hit the major highlights.

I then visited a little historic church of St. Bartholomew the Great’s.  This was one of the most surprisingly nice additions to my day.  After all the running around it was nice to take a breather on a bench and have a bite to eat in the wake of a nearly 900 year old religious site.

I then visited the Museum of London.  This featured smaller exhibits that were more personal to the city itself.  Bits of medieval clothing, a fascinating look at the terror of the Black Plague, and some recreations of Victorian era streets were some of the highlights.

After stopping by St. Paul’s Cathedral, I ended my trip with a visit to Hyde Park, the largest Royal Park in London.  Unfortunately I made the rookie mistake of visiting on 4/20, and as such, rather than being a peaceful contemplative stroll, I was often surrounded by crowds of young people.  But the surrounding scenery was beautiful.

I had taken full advantage of the day travelcard I had purchased, which let me bop around using the London metro system as much as I wanted, maximizing my efficiency.  Interestingly, I don’t think the British really know how to handle heat.  The temperature was a perfectly balmy 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) but reminders were posted all over the metro reminding travelers to drink water and seek help if they feel sick.  Londoners can deal with rain, but apparently not the sun…

But overall, it was a fairly lovely day to take the time to properly explore the capital city of England.

 

Things You See at the Canon

You never know what you’ll see in an English pub.  Sometimes it’ll be Scottish dancing.  Other times it will be a herd of geeks and nerds undergoing some form of initiation.  This past week was the latter.

Some friends and I had quietly gone to the Canon, after the last class of the group had finished.  We had just found ourselves a nice table when suddenly we noticed all the seating around us being filled by strangely dressed people.  Bright colors.  Hats.  Even some forms of homemade costuming.  The room was absolutely packed.  What was going on?

It soon became apparent that this was some form of Pokemon club.  Freshmen were dressed as Pokemon while upperclassmen were trainers.  The Pokemon were assigned to trainers by random draw and then proceeded to “fight” other Pokemon in duels.  Don’t worry, the fights that we saw consisted of arm wrestling and dice rolling.

It was certainly not something we expected to encounter on our Thursday evening.  But you never know what you’ll see in England.

 

Bath Storytelling: Take Three

It was lovely to return to the Raven to hear more British stories.  This session was led by the original founder of the group, who told Maddie that she looked like a singer in an effort to get her to perform (alas, this did not work).  One of the night’s stories included special appearances by teddy bears.  Another was a piece of poetry recitation.  One man puzzled us with riddles where we could only glean information by asking yes or no questions.  Another was a 500 year old story that was apparently an inspiration for The Taming of the Shrew, told by a man who is always excellent at accents.  The session concluded with a more close-knit and conversational tone as people took turns sharing stories and opinions

Unfortunately this is the last piece of Bath Storytelling I’ll be able to attend this semester.  I’ve greatly enjoyed being reintroduced to the art of storytelling, to hear the funny anecdotes, insights, and tall tales.  It’s been a wonderful experience.

Swordfighting

In a time of essays, in the foreign land of England, American study abroad students are in natural need of a stress outlet.  What better way to relieve tension than to wack each other with swords?

The session was led by Rob, who took us through some basic moves in the style of Western medieval martial arts.  He led us through various stances before demonstrating a few strikes and counters.  We then had the opportunity to practice some on our own and even dual each other.  I could almost hear the “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” sequence from Mulan as we trained in the art of war.  Rob emphasized to us that this style of fighting was not a sport like fencing.  The moves were originally designed to kill, and he explained many of the strategies you could use in battle to ensure that you survived and your opponent did not.

Probably the highlight for me was getting to fight Rob.  Towards the end he was allowing people to dual him one on one, and Bea and Pippa volunteered me for the last fight.  Getting to swordfight was always a childhood dream of mine, so why not give it a go?  Fighting was like a dance, with added commentary going on behind me.

“Go for the knees!” Pippa advised with a yell.

I obliged.

Rob was by no means going purely easy on us, but he showed a lot of restraint in letting us wack at him.  He would attack us himself, but any blows he landed were taps.  We showed no such control… I wacked his hands and neck.  After a pause we resumed, and suddenly I was on the defensive, barely able to deflect his strikes.  One of his stances reminded me of the famous crane from Karate Kid.  Ah crap, I was done for.  But I managed to somewhat hold my own. For his last attack, he spun his sword around to hit me on the opposite side, but not before I hit his unexposed ribs.  It was a fun bit of wish fulfillment, even more so while wearing my “got xena?” t-shirt.

The atmosphere was fitting as we packed up our things to leave.  We saw birds in the distance.  Ravens.  No doubt drawn to death someone speculated.  Bea broke our ominous ponderings.  She pointed exasperatingly at their white forms.

“You guys, those are seagulls!”

Well, we may not have attracted ravens to our practice, but we ourselves had a blast!

 

Mary Stuart

I knew the general outline of the story of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart.  But this play brought the volatile historic situation to life.  There was so much tension in this real political chess game, any move threatening both lives and countries.  It was almost like a Renaissance version of the Cuban missile crisis, with each decision or lack thereof fraught with danger.

The show started with a bang as a coin flip literally determined which of the two lead actresses would play the imprisoned Mary Stuart.  As the verdict was reached, the rest of the cast bowed to the night’s Elizabeth I.  The floor began to rotate as loud ominous music ripped through the theatre, and immediately the actress who played Mary Stuart had her coat stripped from her as she was roughly shuffled off stage to begin her imprisonment.

The show did an amazing job of using mirroring and parallels to continue emphasizing the similarities between these two queens, and reinforcing the idea that at a flip of a coin their positions could be reversed. The costuming was largely modern day in terms of style until the final moments of Mary Stuart, when Elizabeth I was dressed in full period regalia, emphasizing the final contrast between these two women as they approached their respective fates.  It was nearly Shakespearean in terms of the drama, soliloquies, and themes.  You could fittingly insert, “Two households, both alike in dignity…”

It was especially interesting to watch this play as a Catholic.  Much of the tension had religious undercurrents, and it lent an interesting perspective to the humanitarian aspect of freedom of religion.  Basic aspects of religious life, such as Mary Stuart being able to take communion in her last moments, and being denied burial on consecrated ground, meant more to viewers who understand the weight of those rituals.

Overall this was a great piece of English theatre, filled with history, drama, and great acting.