Photoblog: Raby Castle

Our second day in Durham, we rented a car so we could get around. The top priority of the day was to visit Sockburn, but we weren’t going to be able to access that property until the afternoon.

So, in the morning, we headed to Raby Castle.

Raby Castle was built in the 12th century by the powerful Neville family. Joan Beaufort married Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland, and Joan is my half 3rd cousin, 21 times removed.

That makes the Neville (other than Joan’s kids), well, no blood relation to me at all, but they’re some sort of cousin-in-law or something.

The Nevilles held Raby Castle until the Rising of the North. They led the rebellion supporting Mary, Queen of Scots, and were stripped of titles and land when Elizabeth I put the rebellion down.

First of all, let me say something about driving in England… Driving on the right side of the road wasn’t hard. We all drive on one-way streets, so it’s not that big a deal.

What was tough was tracking through the lane properly. More than 25 years of driving was screaming at me that I should have the left edge of the lane just over my left shoulder. I kept drifting that way.

The Wife was sure I was going to take the mirror off the car. And, as she was sitting on the left side, she had a good view!

We got the full insurance, but there was a 100 pound deductible. I seriously thought about offering them 80 pounds, in exchange for paying the deductible up front.

In any case, I never hit anything. But I did come close.

The roundabouts are everywhere. We had a GPS, so it told us when we were coming up on them. But they don’t all look like roundabouts. Once, I was through the roundabout before I even knew we were there.

Another time, I missed my turn out of the roundabout. I was supposed to take the third exit, but never even saw the first two.

Some of the country roads are quite narrow, but we were fortunate in that we never came across anyone going the opposite direction when it was that narrow.

So, we made it to Raby Castle, intact, but with slightly elevated blood pressure. We were a bit worried, as the last three castles we had gone to had been closed to visitors.

Fortunately, our luck had turned and the castle was open.

The grounds were immaculate, with perfectly manicured lawns and gardens. There were herds of semi-domesticated deer all over the place.

The inside was just as amazing, although photography was not allowed. There was one disturbing rug, however. It was made from a cocker spaniel, that I can only assume was once a family pet.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Durham, England

Our third morning in the United Kingdom, we took the train from London Kings Cross Station to Durham, England.

This is where the extra we spent for the first class BritRail Pass paid off. The standard class cars were packed and seemed to be standing room only, while the first class had plenty of room.

And free coffee. Delivered to my big, comfy seat.

I’m referring to my chair. My posterior is neither big nor comfy. And I rarely have coffee delivered to it.

In any case, as we pulled into the Durham train station, the center piece of the town came into site: Durham Cathedral.

Durham Cathedral is considered by most to be the finest example of Norman architecture in the entire British Isles. The Durham Cathedral tower is visible from most anywhere in town.

As you walk up to the Cathedral, the site is impressive. Durham Cathedral is dark and imposing, made of very solid looking stone.

But when you go inside, and walk around the first column so you can see the nave, it takes your breath away. The vaulted ceiling soars more than seventy feet over the floor.

Apparently, there are 325 steps to the top of the tower, and the view is amazing. It was closed when we went, so I didn’t have to decide whether I wanted to climb it.

We visited the Treasures of St. Cuthbert exhibit, primarily to see the Conyers Falchion. This is a sword that was carried by Sir John Conyers, my 27th Great Grandfather.

Legend has it that he used this sword to kill the Sockburn Worm, a dragon that was terrorizing the township of Sockburn, south of Durham. The Conyers Falchion is used to this day in a ceremony to welcome any new Bishop of Durham to County Durham.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in the Treasures of St. Cuthbert, so I was not able to get any pictures.

The Cloisters of Durham Cathedral was used to represent parts of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

Durham Castle was closed for tours when we were there. This was the third castle that had been closed to us. We were starting to worry that it was becoming a trend.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: London

Today we’re jumping backwards in our trip. Our first stop on our United Kingdom tour was actually London. We spent two days there before heading up the east coast in a train.

It’s amazing how much you can see in two days with an unlimited London Underground pass.

We went to Kensington Palace, but it was mostly closed due to renovations being made for the impending move-in of Prince William and his bride. There was some kiddie tour (find the seven princesses or something), but we skipped that.

Next, we headed over to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard. We were running a bit late, so knew we wouldn’t have the best view of the proceedings.

Little did we know how crowded it would be. There must have been five to ten thousand people there. Apparently, interest has shot up since the royal wedding.

The only pictures I could get were by holding the camera up and shooting randomly, and as we walked by the gates (where people weren’t allowed to stand still).

For me, the highlight of the London portion of the trip was the Tower of London. I do believe we walked ever foot of the place, including a couple of very claustrophobic staircases.

We checked out the London Bridge and the London Eye from a distance, then walked around Big Ben, Parliment, and Westminster Abbey.

And we only really got rained on once (as we came out of the Tower of London)!

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Conyers Chapel and All Saints Church

The origins of All Saints Church in Sockburn stretch back to antiquity. Higbald was crowned Bishop of Lindisfarne in here in 780 or 781, and Eanbald was made Archbishop of York here in 796.

The majority of what was the church is now in ruins. The still standing portion, called Conyers Chapel, is considerably younger. It is named after John Conyers, who lived in the 13th century, and is my 27G Grandfather.

His stone effigy can be found in the chapel (and seen in these pictures) and he and his wife are buried under the chapel.

The chapel also contains a considerable collection of stone carvings, many clearly of Viking origin.

The church was partially demolished by Henry Blackett when he purchased the property in 1838. Such ruins were very much in vogue at the time. While such needless destruction offends my historic sensibilities, there seems little question that the church as already in rather poor shape when Blackett got hold of it.

My thanks go to Mary, the owner of the property, for taking my wife and I on a tour of the church. The remains of the church itself are owned by the Diocese of Durham.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.

Photoblog: Sockburn, England

Sockburn is a village in County Durham, near Darlington. It is contained within a loop of the River Tees. Today, it consists of little more than a 19th century mansion and the ruins of an ancient church.

The history of Sockburn goes back at least as far as 780, when Higbald, Bishop of Lindisfarne was crowned there. Soon after 1066, it was settled by Roger de Coigniers, my 33G Grandfather.

Earlier this month, my wife and I were honored by being allowed to visit. Mary, the owner of the property, very kindly took us on a tour of both Conyers Chapel and Sockburn Hall. She had wonderful stories, having grown up in the house.

While my ancestors never lived in Sockburn Hall, they resided on the property for about six hundred years.

Efforts are underway to restore the mansion. You can find out more about this at the Sockburn Hall Project.

Tech Notes: All images shot on my Nikon D200 with either a Sigma 24-70 or a Sigma 15-30 lens. Images were processed in Photoshop Elements.