|Cobblestone road leading to cathedral|
You might have noticed a trend in my blog lately: day trips. We've been doing a number of day trips on the weekends because it's so easy to get away into the countryside or smaller urban centres for the day. Given the current travel restrictions, we realised that we could just make the decision to use this year to explore the UK and our remaining time here travelling to other countries, since its likely those restrictions will ease next year. It's not that we didn't want to do this anyway, but it just helps to take away any disappointment we might have had at being posted to London and then being unable to travel in Europe more easily. We want to get to know the UK as well; there is much history here, and we both have family connections here that we want to explore as well.
Yesterday's trip to Thaxted was one such family connection. My husband's mom grew up there, and when he was a child, he used to visit his grandparents there each summer. His grandparents eventually moved away from there, presumably when Stansted Airport was being built, and if that was the reason, we can't blame them. They would have been planning to spend their retirement in a quiet town in the English countryside, only to be bombarded by an airplane flying overhead every 10 minutes or so--or perhaps more, since with Covid restrictions, we can imagine there might be more air traffic. But it's a shame, but the town is just beautiful, having been founded in 11th Century and really being developed in the 1300s until their boom time in the 1500s. You can read much more detail about Thaxted on Wikipedia; there is actually a lot to know. But in terms of what allowed Thaxted to develop and prosper, it was the manufacture of cutlery. The cutlers formed their own guild, which led to an ability to organise and develop the town, and they pooled their prosperity to help build the cathedral as well as the iconic guildhall in the centre of town. The guildhall is actually one of the oldest buildings in town, estimated to have been completed between the late 14th to early 15th Centuries, although some of the timber used has been dated as being from the 1500s, so it's not entirely clear. Nevertheless, it's still pretty old, at least 500 years old, if not more. If you're not sure what a guild is, it's Oxford defines it as a medieval association of craftsmen or merchants, often having considerable power. You hear about guilds back home, but usually it's like a quilter's guild or something like that. There is a more modern way we use it, but back then, it was a kind of union, almost, that allowed workers to join forces to benefit themselves and their trade or profession.
In addition to the guildhall, the nearby cathedral is about as old, and it offers a variety of gargoyles, working church bells, a lot of old artefacts inside, and beautiful stained glass windows from various centuries. There were actually people practising the church bells for about an hour or so that afternoon. We could hear them when we were on a public footpath nearby, and it continued on for some time as we returned to the town centre. But our main reason to visit was to see the place where my husband's parents were married. While perhaps not as wealthy as some other cathedrals in England, it still would be a grand place to hold a wedding. It has a wooden frame, and there are beautiful carvings in both the stone and the wood. The doors leading into the church are huge but have smaller doors cut into them for people to pass through--but they are pretty small. Apparently, people back then were shorter than they are today. I learned this in one of my anthropology classes some years ago, although when I try to verify this information, I can't find anything; it seems that people then might have been only marginally shorter, so if that's the case, I can't explain the short doors. I was grateful that the church was open. The pandemic has closed many churches to the public, some only opening for individual prayer and reflection for limited hours or only open for limited Sunday services, so we haven't been able to go inside all the churches or cathedrals we've seen.
We also had cream tea at the windmill, built in 1804, which is located near the cathedral but stands at one edge of the town. I actually haven't ever seen a windmill before, so it was neat to see one in real life for the first time, but what was lovelier was being able to have tea with scones and clotted cream and jam, which is known as "cream tea," as opposed to afternoon tea, which would include more sweets and savouries and be like a light meal. The weather is warm right now, and the sun was out with a light breeze, and it was the perfect weather for exploring but also resting at a table in a quiet little windmill park on the lawn to sip your tea.
One of our main goals in town was to see the house that my husband's grandparents used to live in, which is a short walk from the guildhall. We also wanted to see if we could find the location from which his mother sketched the cathedral because it was at a bit of a distance with some wheat in the foreground which the cathedral on the horizon. We started walking on a public footpath near the grandparents' former house, and we believe that we did, indeed, find where she did her sketch. Trees might have been planted or were perhaps quite small then, so it wasn't exact, but we do believe the wheat fields we walked next to are the ones in the sketch. In any case, the walk itself was one to restore the spirits, with mainly the sound of the wind through the trees and a few birds twittering and calling in and over the wheat fields. My husband also informed me that there was always wheat there when he used to visit; he said he remembered having a stick of wheat in his mouth. I thought it was interesting that the same crops are still being planted decades later.
|The location of the sketch, we think|
We had a spectacular day. I also was able to get some photos of birds, and we came back feeling very fulfilled and rejuvenated. It's experiences like that that make us not miss travelling internationally right now. We are completely satisfied enjoying places closer to home. There are so many smaller towns and places with lots of history that you really can spend a lot of time visiting it. We have places to go to see us through the next several weekends, so we're really enjoying this approach to our travel plans.