Anywhere with a castle

Anglotopia Day 12 – Kendal & Carlisle 

Sunshine greeted me early the next morning, as I had forgotten to pull the sunshade on my rooftop window.

With rail pass in tow, I hopped a train to Kendal, only a stop or two away from Windermere, to take a wander around the town and visit the hilltop Kendal Castle.

A twenty minute walk up from town, the castle sits on high hill overlooking the Cumbrian dips and valleys. It was a goodly workout to follow the signs that wound through the town toward the castle, and then, the footpath followed up through the grass to the top. The castle itself was a mere ruin from the 1500s on, but it was once home to the powerful Parr family (of Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VII’s sixth wife, fame). The commanding view of the surrounding landscape and of Kendal itself was quite worth the short hike up.

After poking about a bit at the ruined castle, I walked back into town, intent on catching the next train and heading north to Carlisle to visit its cathedral and castle. As I went to head across an intersection at the pedestrian crosswalk, I looked at the driver stopped there, we acknowledged each other, and I went on.

Except, the driver also went on. They actually ended up hitting me with the bumper, which surprised the hell out of me. Dude, I had the nod to go. There was shouting (mostly on my end) and excessive gesturing to indicate that hitting my leg was not the best choice they could have made, whilst someone in the crosswalk walking toward me also gave them a menacing look.

I wasn’t hurt or anything – more just ticked off – but my next words were, “All for a damn castle” and something like “the first time I get hit by a car in my life …” followed by other words.

I’ll just leave it at that.

At least I fared better in Carlisle. By faring better, at least I wasn’t hit by a car.

Carlisle was a fortified town near the Scottish border and Hadrian’s Wall. The castle was a rather imposing beast easily reached from a walk through town from the train station. Exploring the castle brought me back to the Medieval Ages, especially the sparse furniture, huge fireplaces, and the feeling of lives long past. Films honestly don’t do the Medieval era justice – one look into a bottle dungeon or at the hygiene practices of the ladies at court (men, too, of course), and it makes me glad to be in the 21st century.

A storm built on the horizon, so I hastened down from the castle walls and into one of the exhibits. Ironically, it was about dungeons and prisoners. Needless to say, I was the only person down there, it was rather dark, and I was pretty sure I ran into a few spider webs along the way. There was some interesting “graffiti” and carvings in the stone walls, put there by bored prisoners, guards, and soldiers.

By now, the storm was crashing in on Carlisle with its full fury, spraying down rain and the wind blowing it sideways. It seemed to have dropped to freezing rather quickly, so I bundled up as much as I could and ran across the courtyard toward the gift shop. The clerks assured me that the storm would pass quickly, as it was just a thunderstorm from the mountains.

Sure enough, within another fifteen minutes – and my wallet lighter from having spent time in the interesting book section of the gift shop – the storm rolled on, and I left the castle for town, intending to make a stop at the magnificent Carlisle Cathedral.

England does a lot well. Tea, for instance, only tastes perfect when I’m in England – or maybe when a British person makes it. I muck it up quite frequently – either too weak or bone-curdlingly strong. I am more prone to watch British-style sports like football, rugby, polo, rowing, and the like, but I don’t claim to understand their intricacies. I understand Quidditch more than I’ll ever understand cricket, anyway.

Most British accents melt Americans’ hearts. We scuffled off royalty but were glued to the screen during the Royal wedding. We break our hearts over Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Matthew MacFadyen, and Benedict Cumberbatch. After all, if we’re serious here, you can only find a person named Benedict Cumberbatch in England, and the name does not sound so nice rolling out with my Midwestern U.S. accent.

It also does castles and cathedrals well. We have grand houses and churches in the U.S., but there is something so damn beautiful about English castles and cathedrals. Maybe because we are trained through films to love them. Maybe because we over-romanticize them in the States because we don’t have them – or, at least, we don’t have centuries and centuries old castles and cathedrals. They have become relics and tourist spots around the country, but I find the fierce dedication by some to preserving them to be a uniquely English trait.

After living in some part of Asia for the last five years, I see the loss of old neighborhoods, temples, and shops which are so much a part of local life. What is preserved gets a coat of modernity, a spate of high-end shops, and swanky Western-style restaurants. I don’t know which way is best, as it depends on the aims and goals of a country and, hopefully, its people, but the best part of travel, in my humble opinion, is the local place just behind the glitzy tourist and high-end shops, where you might doubt the accuracy of the menu or the seemingly high price the shopkeeper has given you because, of course, you’re not from around there. Loyalty to the local people drives the business.

I digress, but preservation of the past is the only way to look forward, in my opinion. History isn’t dust that can be swept under the rug for too long. It will accumulate and make quite the mess once it piles up enough. I’m passionate about teaching history, literature, and social responsibility to my middle school students. My travel has this education component to it because connections are important to me. I never know what I can bring back to help the next generation become just as passionate about “old stuff” as I am.

There are an endless stream of castles, cathedrals, and homes to visit in England, but it is those places which drive people to visit and to learn about its history and culture. Films and TV series urge us on to visit the places we see. The buildings are not boring if you care to know the story behind them. If you look at the scratches and nicks, there are memories of the people who have passed through them and made their mark. If you look at the artifacts, the furniture, and the rooms, there are the good and bad of life stories written on them. Each castle is unique in its own way, each cathedral with its stained glass, records, and history; the history which still lives among the walls and bones of such places.

Be honest – imagine England without its castles and cathedrals and grand houses with wide, sweeping lawns.

I would rather not.

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