Are you tired of all the royal baby talk? There’s been an awful lot of it this month. Bear with me though, because we should all take a moment to mark a significant anniversary of yet another royal birth.
Two hundred years ago today, Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born in Kensington Palace. With her birth, she became fifth in the line of succession to the British throne.
Fifth seems a long ways away from the throne these days. (Archie Mountbatten-Windsor is seventh at present.) But due to a series of monarchs and heirs to the throne dying without legitimate heirs, Princess Alexandrina Victoria ended up becoming Queen of the United Kingdom in 1837. She had just turned 18.
This statue of Queen Victoria stands in front of the Parliament Buildings in Victoria, British Columbia. Many places in the Commonwealth are named after Queen Victoria; Canada is the only country to honour her birthday with a statutory holiday. It falls on the Monday before May 24. I grew up referring to Victoria Day as the “May long weekend.” It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto that I first heard it called the “May two-four weekend.” For a long time, I thought that was because Queen Victoria’s birthday is actually on May 24.
But, no. It’s because beer is sold in cases of 24. I had never heard a case of beer called a “two-four” — that’s not a common term in Western Canada — and was completely oblivious to its link with beer.
And why is beer on the mind of patriotic Canadians during this particular weekend in May, you ask? It’s because the May long weekend is the unofficial start of Cottage Season in Ontario. (Don’t get me started on the whole cottage vs. cabin debate.)
Regional differences. Long may they reign. Just like British queens.
The Internet is rife with rumours that Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex are honeymooning in Jasper National Park.
Yeah, right. And I’m the Queen of England.
What I find most remarkable is that one of the online tabloids’ headlines said the couple were honeymooning in “the world’s most boring place.”
Canadians are known around the world as polite folks, typically slow to anger. But mock our icons — like one of our oldest, most spectacular national parks — and we sit up and take notice.
That headline got noticed. And ridiculed.
As for that most boring place? Here’s what it looks like.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
The photo of daffodils I posted the other week had me thinking back to my lovely ramble through the hills of England’s Lake District. It was a sunny, autumn afternoon a couple of decades ago, and although it had been many years since I had studied English romantic poetry, William Wordsworth’s poem, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” was firmly imprinted on my brain.
Likely because I was wandering. And alone. And in the middle of the Lake District (aka Wordsworth’s backyard). I believe I took this photo above Rydal Water on my walk from Dove Cottage to Rydal Mount.
I had arrived in Windermere around dusk the evening before and started off that morning intending to walk to Ambleside. All over England are public footpaths, known as right of ways, where anyone can walk, even if the land is private. The delightful thing about these footpaths is you can take a bus or train to the start of the trail, do your walk, and then hop on another bus or train to get to where you need to be.
To my memory, the paths are well marked. However, I was soon confused and turned around and, well, lost. I asked another walker for directions, showing him my tiny hand-drawn map bought that morning at the Windermere Tourist Information Centre for 20 pence. To his credit, he did not laugh, but he immediately pulled out his full-size Ordnance Survey map — at which point my map felt woefully inadequate and I felt like a silly tourist.
This gentleman set me straight, but it was not long before I was once again lost. I gave up on that path and made my way back to the road where I knew I could catch a bus to Ambleside.
After lunch, I tried another footpath and this time successfully found my way from one of Wordsworth’s former homes (Dove Cottage) to another (Rydal Mount). In the end, it all worked out for the better because by cutting short my morning walk I had more time for my afternoon walk — a walk so beautiful it turned out to be one of the most memorable walks of my life.
A walk so beautiful I started reciting poetry to myself. And, believe me, I’m not the reciting-poetry type.
Several of the English Romantic poets lived in the Lake District, so they are also known as the Lake poets. And the Lake District is truly one of the most spectacular parts of England.
Because I was there in autumn — a lovely time of year, for sure — I saw no daffodils. But someday, one day, I hope to go back in April and see me a crowd of golden daffodils.
I could not let today’s date go by without acknowledging the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death. She died 200 years ago today at the age of 41. Bibliophiles around the world are celebrating her legacy and the new British £10 note featuring her image will come into circulation later this year.
Jane Austen lived in Bath between 1801 and 1806 — which is where I took this photo — and two of her novels are set there. I went to Bath because I’m a Jane Austen fan, but the city is well worth a visit regardless of your reading preferences.
For Palm Sunday, I’m posting a photo of a wall of windows from Fountains Abbey. These windows are located on the bottom level of the abbey’s tower, which was built not long before the abbey was surrendered to the Crown. As I explained last Sunday, after the surrender, the lead and glass were removed from all of the abbey’s windows, allowing in the elements and causing the abbey to quickly fall into ruin.
The Crown sold Fountains Abbey to a merchant from London. Eventually, it was purchased by Sir Stephen Proctor, who used stone from the abbey to build a home for his family. It took from 1598 until 1611 to build that house, which he named Fountains Hall.
What was left of the abbey became the estate’s “folly” — essentially a giant lawn ornament. Such features were common in formal English gardens.
Since 1983, Fountains Abbey has been owned by the National Trust. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
Here is a photo of the narthex of Fountains Abbey, which I am posting for the Fifth Sunday of Lent. A narthex is the entrance to a church. Nowadays, we usually call it a foyer.
You get an idea of the size of the church at Fountains Abbey from this photo. It wasn’t until I visited this abbey that I began to understand why so many of England’s abbeys lie in ruins. Which is ironic, considering that Fountains Abbey is one of the best-preserved abbeys in all of England.
It’s because once you take away the roof, the building doesn’t stand a chance against the unpredictable English weather.
Why is there no roof? That’s easy. When the deed of surrender was signed at Fountains Abbey in 1539, the abbey had to be made unfit for worship. The roof was torn off, and the windows were stripped of their lead and glass. Some of the stone was carted off to be used for building projects elsewhere; the rest was worn down by the elements. During the Dissolution, many of the abbeys were also burned to ensure that the monks would leave.
The Dissolution came about because of Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. More than 900 religious houses — home to some 12,000 people — were destroyed between 1536 and 1541. Initially, the proceeds from the monasteries was intended to provide an income for the Crown, but eventually many of them were sold off to fund Henry’s wars.
Without the lay brothers who built the abbey and did all the daily chores necessary to keep body and soul together, Fountains Abbey would never have become as wealthy as it did. At the time of Dissolution, the abbey’s land holdings had increased to 500 acres, making it one of the richest religious houses in England.
Which also made Fountains Abbey awfully attractive to Henry VIII, who used the proceeds from dismantling England’s abbeys to fund his military campaigns. (More on that next week.)
For today, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the nave of Fountains Abbey. Imagine, if you will, that the roof is still in place and the monks are singing and chanting as they process down this nave towards the Great East Window.
For the Third Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the cellarium at Fountains Abbey. Cellarium is a fancy monasterial word for “storeroom,” and this one was located beneath the dormitory where the lay brothers slept. It was used mainly to store food.
Fountains Abbey had two orders of monks: choir brothers and lay brothers. The choir brothers did all the praying and singing, while the lay brothers did all the manual labour required to run the abbey, including stonework and metalwork, tanning hides and making shoes, brewing and baking, and herding sheep.
Fountains Abbey was founded by 13 rebel Benedictine monks from St. Mary’s Abbey in York. They were sent packing because they wanted to live by a stricter rule than the Rule of St. Benedict that the monks in York followed.
The rebel monks were given 70 acres of land in a valley near Ripon in North Yorkshire. They decided to establish a Cistercian order, which is a French monastic order. Cistercian monks supported themselves by farming. The land near Ripon had everything the rebel monks needed: a valley setting to shelter them from the North Yorkshire weather, stone and timber for building, and plenty of water. The name of the abbey, St. Mary of Fountains, is thought to have originated from some nearby springs.
Not long after founding their abbey, the monks built a church out of stone. The Great East Window above the Chapel of Nine Altars behind the High Altar is featured in this photo, which I am posting for the Second Sunday of Lent.