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kropf

Touring Englisch Cathedrals with Family

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Hello everybody!

 

I hope to be allowed to post a question, which seems to be off-topic, but is somehow closely related to the content of this board.

Having had some wonderful, though rare impressions from attending services or visiting cathedrals in GB as a single traveller many years ago, our family (children beeing now 7, 8, 16) is considering visiting this area during summer vacation. For us, travelling by car and posting tents on camping sites have proven to be best choice regarding costs and value.

I have no idea if the area of southern and middle England is attractive to campers in regard of availability of camping sites and free places there. Brief informations and maybe weblinks are very welcome.

 

Thanks for any help and best wishes for Advent

KBK

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You could do no better than to tour the south coast from Hampshire westwards, moving on through Dorset, Devon and perhaps Cornwall. Hampshire has the wonderful New Forest, a very ancient woodland and still largely unspoilt. Cathedrals easily accessible from here are Winchester and Salisbury (wonderful building and superb Willis organ). In Dorset you have the Isle of Purbeck (which is not an island at all!) with its heathlands, a very pictuesque coastline and hills that give spectacular views. Devon has the very scenic Dartmoor, while the coastline from Plymouth eastwards is also lovely. It also has Exeter Cathedral which is well worth a visit (lovely, refined Willis/Harrison organ) and Wells Cathedral is also within striking distance. The coastline of Cornwall is also renowned, but the only cathedral down there is Truro. Truro has the most unspoilt Willis of any cathedral and the choir here used to be first rate (and hopefully still is, but I have not heard them under their new management).

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For the central area of England, Stratford-upon-Avon is a good base. You would be within easy reach of Worcester, Gloucester, Hereford, Birmingham, Coventry and Lichfield cathedrals, along with Tewkesbury Abbey, St Mary's, Warwick (OK, OK!) and many other good organs and beautiful churches. The Cotswold and Malvern Hills are nearby with plenty for non-organ-loving members of the family to do.

 

There are numerous campsites all around the area.

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Youth Hostels (Google YHA) are also good these days - we use them - family room for 4 - excellent value and the food is usually decent if you eat 'in'. Our two (10 & 12) enjoy them. There is a nice one in Bath if you want to see the sights and visit the Abbey with its Klais. Bristol is easy from there too as are Wells, Salisbury etc.

 

A

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Just a word of caution: most cathedral choirs and organists are on holiday from 18 July to the first full week in September so if there is choral music it will be from visiiting choirs.

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You might like this camp site, which I have heard recommended:

 

Bucklegrove Camp Site Somerset

 

It is very close to Wells cathedral. It is also handy for Downside Abbey, St Mary Redcliffe (Bristol), Bath Abbey, Bristol Cathedral, and Clifton Cathedral. Exeter, LLandaff and Salisbury Cathedrals are all within the range of a day trip. If you want a day by yourself you could send the family to look at these:

 

Cheddar Caves

 

Wookey Hole

 

The local cider is pretty good too.

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There's a very good and large campsite just outside Malvern (near the Three Counties Showground). You can then do Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford in very short drives. Birmingham and Bristol also not much more than an hour's drive away.

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I've even used the M1 and gone back across the Pennines on the M62.

 

Avoid the M5/M6 like the plague!

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I've even used the M1 and gone back across the Pennines on the M62.

That's overdoing it, just to get from Coventry to Walsall, but I know what you mean.

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That's overdoing it, just to get from Coventry to Walsall, but I know what you mean.

Anyway, thanks to all the contributors so far! I am aware of the choir holidays, will try to check in advance who is going to sing....

 

(Beeing accompaning organist to such a substituting choir, I had wonderful days in Derbyshire many years ago...)

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Dear members, when the topic was started, we were thinking about travelling cathedrals in England in coming summer. Made aware of the choir holidays and beeing impressed by (re-)reading "The Pillars of the Earth" and watching its movie adaption during xmas holidays on DVD, we thought: Why not travel already in our winter term holidays?

So we did, and I want to tell you a litte about it. Most likely there will be no revelation for you in this writing, but maybe the view of a foreigner is of interest for some of you.

 

We stayed for two nights in London and for two nights in Salisbury in nice places. Having arrived Sat 12 Feb in Stansted, we managed to have a brief impression of London's inner city (the kids for the first time in the UK) at lovely weather, and to coincidentally listen to a bellringer rehearsal at St-Magnus-the-Martyr. I am an amateur campanologist and knew quite much about change ringing, but wife and children were stunned. Too bad that the ringers finished shortly after our arrival. I was told later that they were just a visiting group, too. Anyway, the target of our tour was evensong in St Paul's.

After reading the discussion about churchwarden's behaviour here on the board, I've already kept an eye on our "exterior appearance" not to be excluded from sitting somewhat closer to the choir (but still we had two rucksacks and raincoats). Well, I have to say, that all staff were very friendly, repeating the same words every 90 seconds to visitors eagerly waiting for evensong admission or asking for the next sightseeing possibility (I find it great that the visited churches restrict sunday to worship only).

Then we were let in and took place under the dome. Later the gate to the quire was opened and we were allowed to pass further on. We took place in the stalls some meters from the choir away. The service was as excellent as expected, opening with a wonderfol introit piece (Deo Gratias by van Wilder). From our seating position I could not judge how much of the organ's dome section was used during the service, but it was so fine watching this great choir on short distance. Walton's Chichester Service was a little unexpected in style, but sung in a very interesting and vital manner. Sadly our children were too tired from the day to enjoy it, though they sing themselves in our church.

 

On sunday, after a very impressing visit of the crowded Natural History Museum, we went to Evensong at Westminster Abbey. For me, it was my second time. But entering this church is such a deep impression - well, you all know better. Again, staff was friendly to everybody (well, it was a rainy day and congregation numbers were certainly much lower than during summer season), and we took place in the quire again, now really on the edge of the choir stalls.

This way, we had an even more intense impression of the work of the DoM and the several ritual details we are not used to. Again there was excellent music, only the organ voluntary at the beginning sounded improvised to me, or with other words, if it was printed music it should be played sight-reading and not spent much time with it, as it was of comfortable late-romantic "pads", but could have cut off at nearly every point of it. Like in St Paul's the evening before, the Leighton responses were used, so we could here them again and compare.

Regarding the organ, which is known to most of you so well: Listening to it live after several years of just bearing its sounds in mind, I was - not for the last time on that trip - reinforced in my opinion, that the sound of "my" organ here in Rostock Marienkirche, which is so often regarded as weak and dim, has some merits when it comes to accompaning choirs, soloists and congregation. It may be a very personal thing, but I prefer a "serving" role of the organ, which normally doesn't exclude it from beeing a capable solistic force. Many new built instruments in Germany are modelled after some french ideas, creating organs which are dominating the acoustical landscape, pushing the listeners capabilities to physical limits in some cases. I was happy, that this my opinion prooved not to be wishful thinking only, but perfectly resembled in english cathedral organs. (Yes, I know, that one can not really compare Westminster to Salisbury etc., but in general you may join this opinion. Of course, the question of position of organ and listener is a different than e. g. in German cathedrals).

 

On Monday, we took a car and left London bound to Salisbury (phew... I prefer playing a Trio Sonata to driving on the left side in unknown terrain AND with the gears on the left...), with a stop in Winchester. I already knew that there would be said evensong only (really "sad" evensong then...), as the choir was on recording session. So we just had a brief look into that magnificent building, enjoyed the town with its - for us - much more familiar size. One gem was left for us to discover: In front of the Castle there was a poster stand saying something about a "40-part motet" by Janet Cardiff. When I went closer to the building, I heard some music from within - o yes, it was "Spem in alium", which is on one of my first CDs ever bought (and frequently listened to). There was free admission to Cardiff's multichannel installation in the castle's Great Hall (the King Arthus table on the wall impressed my son), and it was so touching to hear that wonderful motet in a 40-speaker-arrangement - one per each voice, (ATB sung by single men as usual, and the trebles by few boys(girls too?) per voice of Salisbury Cathedral Choir). What a joy to hear it from center position, as intended by the author, but even more to walk aroung and to listen close to individual choirs or even singers (and occasionally discovering smallest irregularities or errors, making this very technical installation much more human).

If you haven't seen/heard this travelling installation, try to get it somewhere. The motet is looped and plays with a three minute break. It will be in Winchester until 20 March. We continued our trip and enjoyed the now smaller roads and villages on our way to Romsey, where I wanted to see the Abbey, before getting to Salisbury. And worth seeing it it was. Though the resources there are already lesser than in larger Cathedrals, there was a warm welcome and flyers for self-gudied tours, and I could even hear some organ sounds, as a lesson was being held. The church offered many possibilities of reflecting the history of mediaeval church building.

 

Then we drove on, and finally, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral appeared ahead, and this was a very solemn moment for us. (We had a nice view unto the cathedral from our hotel room as well). The kids were allowed to stay home (we did not want to overload them with too much service attendance), but my wife and I went to our next evensong. No need to praise the Cathedral Close and the appearance of the at 5.30 already lit exterior there, but I want to name the quite new (2008) font close to the entrance: The congregation is absolutely right in judging it as an important and equivalent addition to the already existing artwork in the cathedral, as it is not only such, but also a symbol of spiritual life, and a living one, as it uses running water. Again, the now really small congregation was greeted friendly.

This eve, the girls were in charge, my first experience with a girls choir - and a great job they did! Sitting on the edge of the choir stalls again, the mighty organ made a lot of rumble (especially during the Psalms) making me ask if it would be too much of it in the church. But when I returned the day after, listening to the rehearsal, I learned that with some distance the balance was fine (it was clear that otherwise it would have been already observed by the organists).

 

When exploring the cathedral this second day (after visiting Stonehenge, Devizes, Avebury, and Marlborough, the latters just very brief due to bad weather) with my son, after searching for certain motives in the stone carvings of the wonderful chapter house, and seeing the currently shown installation in the cloisters (thousands of bottles lit in a special way, and again anglican church music is added via discrete loudspeakers), the organ was played in the nave. There was a sort of fugue (quite playful) in e-minor with a tuba entry towards the end of it, and I hoped we could hear the piece again as voluntary in the evening. This second Evensong in Salisbury was again sung by the girls, and my daughter (7) was very impressed by them. (When we told her that we saw girls singing the evening before, she first asked what kind of hairstyle they had! My wife has noticed that they all had long hair, and the second day it prooved true, and we wondered if the need of binding the hair to a ponytail automatically generates the wish among the choristers, to have very long hair then. This time even a girl's beautiful solo voice was heard. For our eyes, the DoM here (D. Halls) seemed to be the most "choir conducting" one - the other two (A. Carwood and J. O'Donnell) conducted by somewhat very high-levelled movements (Carwood), as we would judge it from our training, or very small movements (O'Donnell). The latter was very nice to watch and a lesson for myself, as I always tend to make too large movements.

Back to the Salisbury evensong: The final voluntary indeed was the piece rerhearsed during afternoon, and I made my wife aware that there will be an entry of a stop to be found in England only. My daughter just wanted to whisper something to her mum, but when the tuba started in that very moment, she started giggling, affecting her mother, too. Later I asked her about her bad behaviour, and she, not knowing anything about organ stops, answered, that she couldn't resist because of that "Posaune"!

 

Next day we had to return home. The plane left in the evening, so I was looking forward to visit St. Alban's on our way to Stansted (It was a nice anecdote when I asked I guy in a small village's shop how to get to "Stansted Airport" he answered, "Well, this IS Stanstead Abbott!").

We made it to St. Alban's, and so I got back to a place where I've been before, too, when I had opportunity for a concert in St. Saviour's, which must have been before 2000.

 

We reached the cathedral's notice board at 12.28 p.m., reading about an organ concert at 12.30! So we rushed in, the kids spent there time exploring the gift shop in the north transept, while we sat down close to them in the crossing. Peter Dyke from Hereford was already on the pulpit welcoming the audience in a heartly manner and introducing his programme: Postlude in D 105/6 by Stanford, "Herr Gott nun schleuss" by Bach (Neumeister), "Vater unser" by Böhm, Sortie "Adoremus in Aeternum" by Gigout, Fantaisie I by Alain, "Dieu parmi nous" by Messiaen.

I knew that the organ has a neo-baroque accent dating back to P. Hurfords design, though somewhat remodelled recently, and I was prepared for the sounds to come. First of all, the concert was played superbly throughout. The programme shew the advantage of a somewhat "universal organ", as the Bach and the Böhm were played with nice articulation and adequate registration, so the only thing missing here for "historic" sound was unequal temperament. Shurely e. g. the Stanford would have sounded even better in Salisbury etc., but could you depict the Böhm there so well? I really love preserved period instruments, but do not hesitate to play Weckmann, Frescobaldi, Bach and Messiaen on the same organ, if it makes out something musical. Well, the more romantic pieces of course came out very well during that concert. My wife just remarked that the Alain colours sounded somewhat "direct" to her. "Dieu parmi nous" was impressive as one was wondering where this rich sound was coming from, regarding the not so large cases of the instrument.

Exploring the cathedral after the concert once again opened many dimensions to us, and so this trip was concluded with another major impression.

 

If you have read so far, the summary I wanted to point out for you is:

 

During the four evensongs attended, we experienced - with small nuances - an atmosphere of TRUE PRAYER and WORSHIP, in spite of the danger of falling into routine (This I missed so much e. g. in many services during my catholic time in Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral, one major reason for my conversion to Lutheran).

We always felt very WELCOME and had the feeling that, as expressed in one of the service sheets, everybody is invited to attend, no matter if he originates from another confession or even from no confession and is just seeking or doubting.

My wife and I where so much touched by meeting the treasure of evensong and the buildings, making one becoming part of a chain of faith and worship which is many centuries old, and we deeply acknowlede the daily musical work with the children choristers.

 

We did not completely return from this trip, as for the first time since long, we still remained a little "there" in our hearts, and started thinking how the impressions we received could and would influence our work here with the choirs and the ministry in our church, which is, as a building, a cathedral, too.

So thanks to everybody who is engaged in keeping this tradition going. And if it helps anywhere in defeating your church music, you should tell that people from far abroad are coming to England to experience this music. At least we did, and I'm already checking out the places for our next visit....

 

Thanks for your attention and keep up the good work!

Karl-Bernhardin Kropf

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Hello!

 

We are going to depart for our second trip, now without children. Arriving on Monday on East Midlands Airport, we are going to Leicester for Evensong (as the choir of Lincoln has a time off), continuing then to Lincoln (as the music list came not too early, we already booked the overnight stay there - but visiting this church is a mus for us) and Peterborough (Evensong on Tuesday, and so missing the BBC transmission there on Wed), travelling on to Norwich with Evensong on Wednesday, continuing to Cambridge (Evensong in King's on Thursday). Going to or from Norwich we will pass Ely, but without attending a service. On Friday we will travel back to the Airport via somewhere for departure in the evening.

It is a very tight schedule, but maybe somebody would like to give us some advice, what not to miss or what to pay certain attention to (including traffic or parking issues! And even historic railway sights...).

 

We are eagerly awaiting to get in touch once again with these uncomparable impressions of landscape, architecture, music and spirituality.

 

Greetings, KBK

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Hello!

 

We are going to depart for our second trip, now without children. Arriving on Monday on East Midlands Airport, we are going to Leicester for Evensong (as the choir of Lincoln has a time off), continuing then to Lincoln (as the music list came not too early, we already booked the overnight stay there - but visiting this church is a mus for us) and Peterborough (Evensong on Tuesday, and so missing the BBC transmission there on Wed), travelling on to Norwich with Evensong on Wednesday, continuing to Cambridge (Evensong in King's on Thursday). Going to or from Norwich we will pass Ely, but without attending a service. On Friday we will travel back to the Airport via somewhere for departure in the evening.

It is a very tight schedule, but maybe somebody would like to give us some advice, what not to miss or what to pay certain attention to (including traffic or parking issues! And even historic railway sights...).

 

We are eagerly awaiting to get in touch once again with these uncomparable impressions of landscape, architecture, music and spirituality.

 

Greetings, KBK

 

Try and get to see some of the 'rest' of Lincoln and Norwich - both lovely cities - St Peter Mancroft - the church in the market place in Norwich has an interesting organ too. (Lincoln was home to us for 3 years and my wife studied at UEA in Norwich.)

 

A

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Try and get to see some of the 'rest' of Lincoln and Norwich - both lovely cities - St Peter Mancroft - the church in the market place in Norwich has an interesting organ too. (Lincoln was home to us for 3 years and my wife studied at UEA in Norwich.)

 

A

 

 

Of course we will!

 

You'll never guess - I even once played the organ of St. Peter Mancroft! Not the present one, its predecessor. My Austrian high school was (is?) twinned with Hewett School of Norwich, and during a visit our choir sang something there, and I accompanied. At that time (age 17 or less) I had no idea what all those O.D. stops should mean...

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Of course we will!

 

You'll never guess - I even once played the organ of St. Peter Mancroft! Not the present one, its predecessor. My Austrian high school was (is?) twinned with Hewett School of Norwich, and during a visit our choir sang something there, and I accompanied. At that time (age 17 or less) I had no idea what all those O.D. stops should mean...

 

 

If you have time, stop off at the small market town of Wisbech (between Norwich and Ely). Average size town church, but an amazing Harrison & Harrison with a proper 32' Reed and an astonishing tuba!

Something a little sweeter would be St Margaret's Priory in King's Lynn (just East of Wisbech). A very historical organ and very grand building.

 

Richard

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Something a little sweeter would be St Margaret's Priory in King's Lynn (just East of Wisbech). A very historical organ and very grand building.

 

And if you contact the DOM - Adrian Richards you might be able to get a play.

 

A

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