We were unfamiliar with an English Heritage membership, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk, but now would recommend it to anyone interested in sightseeing in England.
Sister-in-law Michelle had not been to Stonehenge. It is much different from our 1976 visit. One can no longer wander among the stones. They now, however, have a museum, cafe, shuttle bus service from the parking lot and signs
explaining what one is seeing.
There is also a significant charge, fourteen and a half pounds for an adult. But as we were leaving, we stopped in the English Heritage sales office, and they applied the fee we paid for Stonehenge to an annual pass. (Visit their website for current prices.) In our case, a joint senior pass for sixty-one pounds entitled us to free admission at over 400 sites and discounts on others. An overseas visitor pass could be purchased for less but was only good for a limited number of days and for not as many sites. We decided to buy an annual pass partially to support the program and with the thought that at Stonehenge prices, we would break even visiting four places.
But that is just the basic information. We later discovered the real reason to buy the pass is it opens doors for you that you didn’t know existed. Along with your pass, your receive a map of England, Cornwall and Wales showing the free locations and those (mostly outside England) where there is a discount. You also get a book with at least a short paragraph on each English Heritage site and, in some cases, more extensive information.
If you are familiar with England, you probably have heard of Hadrian’s Wall or Warwick Castle. But have you heard of Chysauster Ancient Village, also a Roman era ruin, or Restormel Castle? Our English Heritage map and book took us to both and to several other sites we had never heard of but thoroughly enjoyed.
Chysauster Ancient Village is well off the beaten track down a one-lane road with high flower-covered hedges on each side. Up a hill about a quarter mile from the road remain the walls of eight stone houses built in two rows of four between the 1st and 3rd centuries, the “Roman period” in Britain. The house plans were unique to this area and the Isles of Scilly because they were built around an open interior courtyard. They have very thick walls with rooms within the walls. These enclose the courtyard. Every house had a roughly circular room and a long room next to the entrance. In some houses, there was a second circular room. The remains of a hearth are in one circular room, so it may have been the main living quarters. Some of the rooms had closet-sized niches which may have been bedrooms or used for storage. Some rooms might have been used for animals. The rooms were roofed, but the courtyards were open to the sky.
It was a farming community. A ranger we spoke to speculated that there were probably many more houses but the stones had been taken away over the succeeding centuries and used elsewhere.
Even on our next to last day while driving toward the airport for our trip home, thanks to English Heritage, we departed from a direct route to see the Sandbach Crosses and Croxden Abbey.
The Sandbach crosses are two early 9th century Anglo-Saxton crosses found in the market square of the little town of Sandbach. They are the most important monuments linked to the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and among the earliest crosses yet remaining in England.
Symbols of the authority of the Church, they were originally brightly painted and adorned with jewels and metalwork. Along with biblical scenes and stories, there is the carving of a winged beast with gaping jaws and interlaced tail and tongue typical of Mercian art. The crosses were torn down by the Puritans in the 1600s. The head of one is damaged but still retains four rivet holes that once would have held bright metalwork.
Put in the market place in 1585 soon after the town was granted a charter, they were reconstructed using some replacement parts of similar sandstone by a George Ormerod in 1816.
Croxden Abbey was founded in 1176. The Cistercian abbey kept large flocks of sheep and prospered. The abbey moved to the location of the present ruins in 1179 and began construction of a large church completed in 1250. The abbey reached the height of its prosperity in the period 1242 to 1268 when as many as 70 monks resided there.
Henry the VIII suppressed the abbey in 1538. Henry’s agents took everything from such suppressed religious institutions including the lead roofs. Some felt it was just to enrich Henry, but it may have also ensured the abbots did not rise to power again. Without protection from the rain, wood timbers rotted and floors and walls collapsed. Henry’s suppression is the reason we see so many church ruins in the United Kingdom today.
Several stone coffins can still be seen where the church high altar once stood. They were the tombs of the wealthy founding family and other benefactors — sic transit gloria. Now they are most notable for their small size; a modern adult would be unlikely to fit in them.
What about Restormel Castle? That will be the subject of another post as are several other English Heritage sites.
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