My husband and I made a tour of northern England with Celia Fiennes as our guide. Celia made her journey in 1697 which is recorded in “Through England on a Sidesaddle in the Times of William and Mary.”
The genesis of our trip was a manuscript on http://visionofbritain.org.uk/travellers/Fiennes. Celia Fiennes’ account of her journeys were in 17th century spelling and grammar. I was so intrigued that I “translated” her tour into contemporary English. Then even more intrigued, I searched online for photos of places to which she had been. The upshot is I created a hard-bound, illustrated and easy- to-read version of her trips. So, what next? Let’s go!
Celia’s reasons for her journeys resonate well today as she says in her introduction, “both ladies, much more gentlemen” should “spend some of their time in journeys to visit their native land and be curious to inform themselves…of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufacturers of each place…” Other of her trips were to Cornwall and various places in southeast England, including Bath.
The part of her 1696 and 1697 journeys which my husband and I traced took us to the Peak District, the Lake District, Nottingham, York, and Newcastle and more. It was most satisfying to see places that are still there and have her commentary on what we were seeing.
For example, outside of York is Knaresborough which boasts being one of the first roadside attractions, the Petrifying Well. Due to the mineral content of the water, an object can take on a stony exterior.
In the Peak District we visited the Peak Cavern, famed for (if nothing else) being the largest cave opening in Britain and into the 1950s, home to rope makers, and, by legend, bandits. It, too, was a tourist attraction in the 17th century. Daniel Defoe makes mention of it in his book of travels.
At Chatsworth, we admired the park and gardens which Celia enjoyed and were as much delighted as she was, by a metal tree that looks like a willow tree and is a fountain.
Celia was a spa enthusiast, so we had to go to Harrogate and sip the rotten-egg smelling water.
York was a delight as she “took” us through York Minister, with its windows “so large and so lofty.” We went to Burton Agnes Hall and entered under the very gate house which she had.
For North Carolina local interest, we followed her to Durham, seeing the cathedral and cloister which she describes as “good,” certainly good enough for filming a scene in a Harry Potter movie.
It was especially gratifying to talk to guides at various places who knew of Celia’s trip and were delighted with our enthusiasm. Our trip was accomplished by trains, taxis and local buses which certainly added to the adventure.
I am awaiting delivery of a book, “Horseback Journeys of Celia Fiennes – 1000 miles across England” by Elizabeth Barrett. I was thrilled to find a fellow traveler doing her 20th century pilgrimage.
As an aside, actor Ralph Fiennes is a family descendant. Broughton, the family seat, remains in the family and is open to the public.
Pam Martin (OLLI Member)