Thursday, September 18, 2014

Down home girl


Here I am in the Shire.  It's actually Hampshire, but like every other county in England it's supposed to be the basis of The Shire where the Hobbits live in LOTR.  I claim this with the strongest vehemence though ergo I am right.  Worcesteshire and The Midlands can suck it.  Also, Southampton (a port town 20 minutes from my home) is supposedly the inspiration for Southfarthing on LOTR.
Other fun legends (read: cold hard FACTS) about my home region - 

  • Winchester developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum, which developed from an Iron Age oppidum (oppidum = settlement)
  • Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, built in 1079, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe.  (The Nave is the main body of the church/cathedral/abbey)
  • The city is also home to the University of Winchester and Winchester College, the oldest public school in the United Kingdom.  (In England speak, Public school actually means Private school - don't ask me why.  If you go to public school it is a posh school.  If you go to comprehensive school it is free, not posh school.  The end) Winchester College was founded in the 1140s.  
The Buttercross.  No it isn't made of butter.  Nor is it really a cross.
  • The City Cross (also known as the Buttercross) has been dated to the 15th century.  The Buttercross is a stone monument in the corner of what is now the High Street (in England speak the high street of a town refers to it's main street, you don't really hear it in the US) it is like a tower of steps with stone figures at the top and anyone who has ever grown up around Winchester has sat on the Buttercross with their friends eating ice cream or a Cornish pasty.  Because there is a Cornish pasty shop across from it.  Kind of cool that I've been sitting on 15th century stone all this time.  In 1770 someone tried to remove it but the townspeople rioted, so it stayed where it was.  YES!
  • Jane Austen died in Winch and is buried in the Cathedral.  You can visit her gravestone as it's in the main nave of the Cathedral.
  • John Keats stayed in Winchester and wrote Isabella, St. Agnes' Eve, To Autumn, Lamia. parts of Hyperion and the five-act poetic tragedy Otho The Great there.  This I never knew, and now I understand why we spent sooo long in English class in year 10 studying St Agnes' Eve (an epic romantic poem that is about a billion years long and Porphyro does a lot of sneaking around castles looking for his maiden)

As if ALL THAT wasn't cool enough, one of the best things about Winchester is that it is home to THE ROUND TABLE
As in, King Arthur
So in case anyone who is aware of the legend of King Arthur and was wondering what ever happened to the round table
Some people who care about historical fact have annoyingly let everyone know that it actually came along later than King Arthur did.  Some people just have to ruin everything.  BUT it was painted for Henry VIII and has the names of King Arthur's Knights around the edge.  I'm not kidding.  That's Arthur at the top there.

The OTHER really cool thing (well my favourite anyway) is King Alfred.  We like our legendary Kings around here.
Alfred the Great was basically the best King England's ever had.  Although at the time it was England as we know it now.  He was in fact an Anglo-Saxon king who defended the country from the Vikings a lot and successfully, or y'know just making peace with them and the pagans and just evereryone.  He worked to improve people's education, quality of life and the legal and military systems, as well as just having a rep for being smart, wise and an all-around good dude.  
Fun fact: his reign began in 874, on April 23rd! My birthday! My birthday is literally England day (for those who don't know it's also the same as the English Saint's Day - St. George - and Shakespeare's b-day.../death-day.  England day!)

He got married, had a bunch of kids, came up with the idea of teaching mostly in English instead of Latin (cheers Al) was generally liked by everyone, memorised books of poetry and there is a whole myth about him burning the, the story goes that at one point during his reign when the Danes (Vikings!!!) were on a winning streak and Alfred was struggling to hold it together, he went off to the marshes to think about his life and choices/strategise.  A peasant woman allowed him to chill in her crib.  She was busy doing life I guess so she asked him to keep an eye on some cakes that were cooking on a griddle over the fire.  He was so lost in thought over the troubles of his merry nation that he forgot, and the cakes burned.  Mrs Peasant was unimpressed and even though he was the King he should be able to manage not burning cakes, so she gave him a right good scolding.  On the plus side he had made good use of his thinking time and came out of the marshes refreshed and rejuvenated.

Re: the statue of him that greets you as you enter the High St - it was put up in 1899 to mark 1000 years since his death.  It's a pretty boss, huge bronze statue.  The sword that he holds was made to be detachable.  I was always told that if you stand underneath and tell a lie, the sword drops on you. And I just read a new one - legend has it that if a virgin woman at least 16 years old walks three times around the statue, he will lower his sword.  Heyyyy!

So that's a bit about Winchester.  And that's just one town - don't get me started on the rest! I will make a new post with pictures and tidbits about my life in the countryside because even though Winch is great, I don't actually live it's a 15 minute drive.  I am on top of a hill in a hamlet (that's a village that isn't quite big enough to be a village really) called Hinton Ampner which means...well it's some kind of Olde Englishe for big hill, basically.

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