Monday, April 13, 2009

MadPriest's Longest Day


On the day that MadPriest and I were to meet in Newcastle, I left Leeds on the 9:05 AM train. MadPriest told me that I had to be on that train. We'd had the near miss in our previous plan to meet at Thornaby, and neither of us wanted a repetition of that.

Before the alarm went off at 6:00 AM, I awoke at 4:00 AM, anxious about the train, I suppose, and there was no falling back to sleep. I had lots of time to get dressed and drink my tea in my room and eat my cereal bars and an apple in good time to get to the train station by 8:00 AM, which I thought would be enough time to buy my ticket and find the right platform. It was. Once I boarded the train, I dutifully called MP to tell him that I had caught the right train at the right time, and that I was on my way to Newcastle.

I'm not sure I remember the exact sequence of events after I arrived in Newcastle, but I believe we walked from the station to the River Tyne, along the river (a lovely walk!) to the pedestrian bridge to the Sage Music Centre. The picture at the head of the post shows the river, the Tyne Bridge, a graceful structure, and the arched roof of the Sage beyond the bridge.

We bummed around in the city center, saw one of the oldest buildings in the city, a timbered structure, and many handsome buildings in the classical style, which were built in the 19th century. Newcastle is a compact city, and I liked that. MadPriest is an excellent guide. You'd have thought he was a professional.

If memory serves, The Cathedral of St. Nicholas was the next stop. The cathedral calls for a post of its own. There's so much to see there that this would be the post without end if I described and linked to the highlights there. It's well worth a visit. All this before lunch.

We stopped for a cuppa, tea for me, coffee for MadPriest, and to rest the feet, and then we were off to meet Mrs MadPriest for lunch at the university.

After lunch, it was on the bus to MadPriest's shrine house, into the car, and on to Hexham Abbey, on the site of an ancient church built by St. Wilfrid (I know. Lotsa links, but it can't be helped.) in the 7th century, which is also the present Parish Church of St. Andrew. What a magnificent structure, part quite old, part not so old, but all-around wonderful.


At first, one of the guides took us around. She was pleasant enough except when it came time for us to go down into the crypt.

For visitors who come to Hexham Abbey in search of the past the greatest thrill of all is the Anglo-Saxon crypt. A steep stone stair descending from the nave takes you back thirteen hundred years, into rooms and passageways left intact from St Wilfrid’s original church. The only comparable crypt is beneath Wilfrid’s other great church at Ripon. Everything that he built above ground at Hexham has gone, except for carved fragments set in the walls of the nave. Only his crypt is essentially as it was first built.

She blocked the gate to the stairs down to the crypt until she recited her entire long-winded spiel. What an inspiration to watch MadPriest fight a valiant inner battle for restraint, as the lady droned on and on. In the end, he won the battle and did not shove the old lady out of the way. She did not even mention some of the coolest things we would see down in the crypt. Once again, MadPriest was an excellent guide, much better than the real guides.


Inside Hexham Abbey Crypt. Note the various stones in the wall... all reused from the Roman settlement at Corbridge, some 3 miles away.

Photo and quote from Sokabs at Flickr.

The decorative stones set in the midst of rough stones took my breath away. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it is not.

Below is the stone stairway in the abbey.


Thirty-five worn stone steps rise from the south transept of Hexham Abbey, leading to a broad gallery behind a stone parapet, with three doorways opening from it. People have used this Night Stair through eight centuries. It was probably built early in the 13th century by masons working for the team of canons who then lived and prayed in the Priory.

I won't say an unkind word about the other guide lady in the abbey, because when nature called rather insistently, she permitted me to use the church choir's private loo, which is through one of the doors at the top of the the worn, uneven stairs. She volunteered that the choir, along with the crucifer, processed down the stairs at the beginning of services. The stairs are quite a challenge without a cross in hand. Just sayin'.

I'm giving just a few of the highlights of the riches to be found in a visit to Hexham Abbey. What can I say? Read more about it, or go visit yourself.

The post is running long, so I will hurry through the visit to St. Oswald's Church, which I was quite pleased to see, although, to get there, I had to walk across a field in a gale wind which included a light rain on the way back to the car. My knees are bad, but I can still walk.


The Battle of Heavenfield, between Oswald, King of Northumbria, and his soldiers, against the Celtic king Cadwallon and his men in the 7th century was fought on the site of the church. Oswald prayed to God to win the battle, and he did, although he fought, it is believed, against superior forces. God was on his side.

The earliest church was built in 1140, with reconstructions over the years. At the time of the visit to the church, I couldn't keep the history straight, and I probably caused MadPriest a good bit of frustration, but after doing some homework, I believe that I have a better grasp of the sequence of events.

After our windy and wet walk across the field to the car, we returned to MadPriest's shrine house. Mrs MadPriest was home, and I had a glass of wine and a delicious Yorkshire cheddar and good brown bread sandwich, fixed by the hands of MadPriest. It was just what I wanted. I left a only small corner of the bread on the plate. I should have wrapped it and taken it home with me and bought a small reliquary for the bits of bread. MadPriest will be canonized one day, don't you think? Perhaps even by Rome if he decides to swim the Tiber like his mentor John Henry Newman. If he deserves sainthood for nothing else, he should have it for his kindness and graciousness in his long day with me. He and Mrs MadPriest are lovely people, and it was a great pleasure to meet them.

Before I left, I managed to break their towel bar, (or re-break it, for Mrs MadPriest told me that it had already been mended) and nearly forget my HANDBAG at their house, which would have meant that I'd have missed my train, which I caught with only minutes to spare, and stretched out the day even longer and caused further complications in the lives of MadPriest and his missus.

Thanks again for a lovely day, you old curmudgeon. I became a bit soppy there for a spell, and I know how you hate that.