Last Sunday -- August 12th 2012 -- marked eighteen years since the start of my relationship with my beloved cheshcat
. Eighteen years?! How did they fly by so quickly? There are now adults walking around who were not even born when we met for our first date!
Eighteen years. That is 6575 days... or 48.1% of my life. Wowza!
To celebrate, we took a weekend road trip to Yorkshire. Setting out after work on Friday evening, we made it up to Doncaster at a reasonable hour. Knowing that we would arrive slightly before midnight, we booked nothing more posh than a simple Travelodge. No point in splurging for the night where all we needed was a comfy bed. Even so, we were pleasantly surprised, as our hotel room window boasted some spectacular lake views.
The other advantage of our basic accommodation was that we started Saturday in close proximity to our first destination: Pontefract Castle
. Originally constructed in Norman times by a man named Ilbert de Lacy, on land granted to him by the Conquerer, the castle is now in ruins. Ah, but what a history it had!
Pontefract -- or Pompret, as it was then called -- is perhaps best known as the place where Richard II was held captive and then murdered, after being deposed from England's throne by his cousin, the usurping Bolingbroke -- later known as Henry IV. Shakespeare immortalizes this in his history play The Life and Death of King Richard the Second
. This incident is also referred back to in the more famous play Richard III
, with the lines:Pomfret, Pomfret! O thou bloody prison,
Fatal and ominous to noble peers!
Within the guilty closure of thy walls
Richard the second here was hack'd to death
Pontefract Castle was also a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War, where it was besieged three times. First by the Roundheads and then, after they successfully took the castle, by the Royalists, who wanted it back. They got it, too... after which the Parliamentarians went right back into siege mode. Indeed, Pontefract Castle contained such devoted Royalists that theirs was the last castle to surrender at the end of the war; King Charles I was dead two months before they finally gave up the fight!
Unfortunately, all this stubborn resistance was ultimately Pontefract's downfall. After winning the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell set into motion plans to destroy the castle, lest it ever be used against him again. Hence the current ruin.
Here is a picture of the castle in the twilight of its glory days, painted in the early 17th
Impressive, isn't it? However, it certainly does not
look like that now! If there is interest, I can upload photographs from the weekend, showing the castle in its current ruined state (including a certain Nomad in the basement of the tower where Richard II was held prisoner).
After finishing with the castle, cheshcat
and I made our way a little further North, to the city of York. We had been before, of course! cheshcat
and I enjoyed a lovely trip to York in 2007
. Additionally, I had stopped by for dinner with my dear miss_amaranth
on our way back from Scarborough last year... and, just this May, I spent a weekend in York with our friend EB, who was visiting from the States. So we are certainly no strangers to York!
Upon arriving on Saturday, cheshcat
and I began by taking in some familiar sights, like touring the Minster
and taking a stroll down the Shambles
. In the evening, we checked into our hotel; for our anniversary proper, we had booked much more extravagant accommodation -- the luxurious Grange Hotel
, located in a Grade II listed building. After settling in, we cleaned up from a day of scurrying about on castle ruins and, properly attired, enjoyed a phenomenal dinner at the Ivy Brasserie. Absolutely marvelous! With soup, a generous main dish, sides, and dessert, I certainly ate too much... but, hey, it was our anniversary dinner!
Following the meal, cheshcat
and I moved to the hotel sitting room to open our cards and gifts. We chatted with another couple, who was there to celebrate their first anniversary. When all the gifts were open, we retired to our bedroom to enjoy some quality alone time together.
On Sunday morning, we rose late and, after breakfast at a yummy café (found with EB in May), set off to explore parts of the city that we had not visited on previous trips. So no Jorvik Viking Centre
, no guided walking tours
, no Richard III Museum
, no evening ghost walks
(or ghost cruises
on the River Ouse), no National Railway Museum
, no walk along the city walls
, no York Castle Museum
(with its awesome Victorian street
), no climbing of Clifford's Tower
, no descent into the haunted cellar of the Treasurer's House
. All of these places are lovely... but I have seen them all before. After re-visiting some old favourites on Saturday, for Sunday we wanted something new.
We began our afternoon by taking a turn through the Museum gardens
, laid out in the nineteenth century by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society
, and situated on the land that had once been home to St. Mary's Abbey
before the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The garden naturally let us out at the side of the River Ouse, so we continued to stroll alongside the river for a bit. We then ducked into the Yorkshire Museum
to see their special exhibit 1212: The Making of the City
, commemorating eight hundred years since York was granted a City Charter by King John. Whilst in the museum, we also attended a lecture on the history of the York Medieval Mystery Plays. More on those plays in a bit!
When the museum closed, we crossed the river and took a ride around the Wheel of York
, a sixty meter ferris wheel -- sort of a younger sibling to the London Eye. Actually, we took three rides around the Wheel, taking advantage of the uncharacteristically excellent weather to enjoy some spectacular views of the city from way up high. Then we grabbed a quick dinner before returning to the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey... just in time to be seated for the evening's performance of the York Mystery Plays
Performed once every four years, the York Mystery Plays tell the history of the Universe, from before the Creation to the Last Judgment. The English mystery plays originally date to the mid-fourteenth century, when they were performed on the feast day of Corpus Christi. We know that at least thirteen cycles of medieval mystery plays once existed, although only four remain in a complete or near-complete state. Each cycle consisted of a series of biblical plays, and each play told one part of the story. The York Mystery Plays are the most complete cycle that we have, consisting of forty-eight pageants.
Traditionally, the annual production of these plays were organized, financed, and performed by the York Craft Guilds; each guild would take responsibility for a particular play. Rather than being staged in a fixed arena, the plays were performed on pageant wagons. These wagons would parade though the streets of York, stopping at twelve different playing stations to perform.
Although vastly popular, the mystery plays stopped being performed shortly after the Protestant Reformation took hold in England. The plays were viewed as being too Catholic, which was unacceptable. The last record we have of the York Mystery Plays being produced dates to 1569. At least until the modern era.
In 1951, the cycle was revived for the Festival of Britain
. The twentieth century revival was based on the original medieval text, though several significant changes were made. For one thing, the overall length of the cycle was shortened from the original runtime of about fourteen hours. Also, the language was modernized from Middle English to something like Early Modern English (think Shakespeare here); words like "mickle" and "gramercy" still pop up... but the revised text is understandable by a modern audience. Finally, it is worth noting that the 1951 production took place on a fixed stage, in the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, rather than on travelling wagons.
This revival was an absolute success, and the plays have been regularly produced ever since -- first in three year intervals; then, from 1988, these became four year intervals.[*] In addition to being spectacular theatre, the modern York Mystery Plays are also a major community affair. A professional director is hired, and two professional actors play the roles of God/Jesus and Satan; the rest of the 250-member cast is composed entirely of local amateur volunteers. Indeed, 500 volunteer actors are recruited from the local community, forming two casts that alternate performances. This year, Ferdinand Kingsley (son of the more well known Ben Kingsley) played God and Jesus, whilst Graeme Hawley made a delightful Satan (especially when flanked by his ultra-sexy band of devilettes!).
The cycle ended at 23:00, after which we embarked on the three hour drive home. Thus, we got back to Oxford and Chiron Beta Prime at 03:00 on Monday and were rather tired when it was time to get ready for work in the morning. Even so, it was well worth it! I thoroughly enjoyed having front row seats for this astounding spectacle, and I was thrilled to participate in a work that has such a rich and resounding history!
Without a doubt, cheshcat
and I had an extremely memorable anniversary weekend, ensuring that our eighteenth will be looked back upon fondly for many years to come! Huzzah!
[*] Interestingly enough, in recent years, a revival of the wagon-based plays has also sprung up, circa 1994. As in days gone by, they are sponsored by the York Guilds. These productions are not as elaborate as the originals; rather than perform all forty-eight plays at twelve stations, they are currently running twelve plays at each of four stations. Even so, that's pretty spiffy! The wagon plays are also done on a four year interval, covering the even numbered years when the stationary cycle is not performed. Think of these as the Winter Olympics complementing the original revival's Summer Olympics -- indeed, even the years work out correctly in this anology! cheshcat and I definitely want to go back to York in 2014 to see the wagon production as well!