Day 15: Bath, London


Day 15 Photos (95)

Day 15 Video  Bath Abbey Bell Tower Tour

A final breakfast of modest proportions at our B&B and then we walked down the hill, intent on exploring Bath Abbey and climbing its tower before our early afternoon train/tube/overground trip back to London. Passed a new Nepalese restaurant named Yak Yeti Yak. Groan.

Entering Bath Abbey, we noticed at once the fan vaulted ceiling…turns out it was built by the very men who erected the one in Kings’ College Chapel, Cambridge. Our timing was perfect, as a tower tour had just formed for the 10am slot and they had space for 2 more people. The close quarters in the bell tower limited the group to 8. We hung our backpacks at the bottom of the stairs on one corner of the tower and followed our guide Phillipa up the circular stairs. The ascent was very steep. A rope hung straight down hugging the hub of the stairs and afforded the illusion of a life line if you slipped. About ½ way up we went out on the roof and walked to the bell tower itself, letting ourselves in to the center of action for bell ringing by a very small and low door.

At this point Phillipa divulged that she is a bell ringer at another cathedral, and began educating us about the history of bell ringing itself and of these bells in particular. The ropes employed for ringing Bath Abbey’s 10 bells are raised to the ceiling when not in use. In addition to these ropes, there is a manual method for a single person to ring each bell in quick succession. She demonstrated the scale. C to C with an added D and E at the top. Chimes for the ¼ hour are rung now by a digital mechanism, but in the past were manipulated using machinery that still stands in the bell room.

And most informative of all was her explanation of change-ringing and the definition of peals.  On special occasions, such as royal weddings and funerals, 10 people will stand each with their rope and follow ancient patterns to “change” the order in which bells are rung. These events can last up to 5 hours and include thousands of changes. If they are successful in completing the entire pattern with no mistakes, a plaque is mounted on the wall in this chamber to commemorate the feat. There were not many plaques.

From the bell-ringing chamber we stooped over and crept along planking to reach the back of the clock face. The mechanism is in continual motion and rarely needs correction. For many centuries it was situated higher on the tower, but was moved when the tower began to tilt sideways from the weight of it.

She pointed out the keystone for the fan vaulting which we were at that point standing directly above. We got to peep through a round hole in the stone flooring up here and imagine how the bell ringers used this vantage point to figure out the proper time for ringing bells on special occasions.  It was a very long way down to the floor of the chancel from up there but the only way for them to follow the proceedings below.

Up to the actual bells next. At this point an elderly lady in our group confessed that she suffered from vertigo and would prefer to wait for us in the bell-ringing chamber. Phillipa assured her that was fine except that the ¼ hour would be ringing any minute and it was pretty loud from there. The 85-year-old woman must have been more anxious about the noise than the height because she decided to come along with us. We kept an eye out for her from then on.

The bells were a confusion of wood, rope, and metal, hard to make sense of until Phillipa explained their operation and pointed out all sorts of interesting trivia. The tenor bell, the largest, which was first cast in 1700 but recast twice in the 19th century, has an inscription reproduced from the original casting:

All you of Bathe that hear me sound

Thank Lady Hopton’s hundred pounds

The story is that Lady Hopton actually contributed only 20 pounds to the bell’s 1700 creation, and forced her family to provide the rest.

It was a glorious day to be on the top of any tower, but especially dramatic to see so many honey-colored Bath stone buildings on every side. A final look around at the flying buttresses—the only church we visited that had them—and we headed down to collect our packs and walk about inside the Abbey. The walls are covered with memorials. There are 641 wall tablets (second only in number to Westminster Abbey) and 847 grave slabs. It was a little heady and impossible to appreciate even a fraction of the stonework and inscriptions at every turn. Then we learned that there are 3800 bodies buried under the Abbey floor as well. Last one was in 1845, finally outlawed as a danger to public health.

While we were atop the tower at Bath Abbey, Phillipa mentioned that the flag had been changed from the Union Jack to the flag of St. George, the specifically English flag. This was in commemoration of the fact that today, Sept 9, 2015 at about 5:30 pm, Queen Elizabeth would become the longest reigning English monarch. We asked if there would be celebrations in London, and Phillipa answered that first of all, the Queen was in Balmoral, her estate in Scotland, and secondly that she did not want a fuss as it wasn’t really a competition. Then Phillipa said, “Perhaps she’ll have some extra jam on her crumpets.”

Speaking of food, lunchtime was approaching and we were hoping to eat a famous Sally Lunn Bun at her house, the oldest house in Bath. They say that in the basement there is a door which was obviously the original front door. This was before the Georgians lifted the city streets 18 feet. So you actually enter her house, now a tea shoppe, on what was the second floor. We found it down a side street from the Abbey and entered hallway and front room that were almost Hobbit-like. But before we’d even looked at the menu, an unhappy toddler sitting at the next table started what promised to be a lulu of a howl—we exited stage left. Went round the corner and saw a grotto promising Bath Buns so that seemed a pretty good second. In fact, they were current-studded, sugar-sprinkled sweet rolls warm and drizzled with butter. Made a perfect dessert after sandwiches and soup.

Then it was off to the train station and the trip by stylish rail car, to the tube transfer, to London Field by overground train, and the walk back to homebase. A moment of delight on the train when Hank noticed a woman using her digital device that was bordered in bright yellow plastic. He turned to me and said, “Check it out. The Brits use Etch-a-Sketch.”  I snapped a photo to prove it. We were also delighted to see that our train had originated in Penzance, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame and went through Truro, one of the locations Basil drops into conversation on Fawlty Towers. There are so many potential theme-based trips one could take in this country!

Paddington Station, like many other locations, has memorials to those who fought and died in the wars of the early 20th century. We passed a large bronze soldier reading a letter from home. Originally unveiled in 1922 to honor the dead of WWI, the names of 2,524  men and women are inscribed on a roll of honor in a casket underneath the statue. A later update took into account those who died in WWII as well. The inscription reads “3312 men and women of the Great Western Railway gave their lives for King and country.”

Just a little further on we came upon a black and white poster display of photos and text illustrating the origins of the underground in London. 1864 saw the world’s first underground right here…the photos make it clear that no OSHA was on duty!

At London Liverpool Street Station we had a few minutes to take a close look at two statues, one inside and one outside, both of them dedicated to the memory of “Kinder Transport,” the British-led rescue of over 10,000 mainly Jewish children fleeing Nazi persecution in 1938 and 1939. Resonates with what's going on in the migrant/refugee crisis in Europe.

We got home to our young family in time to see a bit about the Queen’s special day on the telly. I had hoped to get a shot of Hank reading the paper with the Queen on the screen, but she didn’t appear. Instead, there was a photo, for some reason, of the Beatles, so I got a shot of Hank relaxing with the Fab Four. We spent the evening sharing the week's highlights all around and planning for the morning. 

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