Federations’ Heart of England Trip- 10th to 14th April 2016
by Larry Breen, FLHS
As in previous years, our choice of the “Heart of England” for our visit was an inspired one. The trip was fully booked with fifty-one local historians from all over the island meeting the Dublin ferry for the start of the journey.
Unfortunately, we were without our good friends John & Jenifer Hulme who were unable to travel but we had them in our thoughts during our visit.
There were thirteen counties represented including Dublin, Kildare, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Donegal, Roscommon, Cork, Galway, Offaly, Kilkenny, Laois and Tipperary
Societies represented were Naas, Clane, Newbridge, Castlecomer, Carrickfergus, Rathmichael, Roscommon, Clontarf, Athy, Rathcoffey, West Belfast, Durrow, Tipperary, Dungannon, Banbridge, Raheny, Knocklyon, West Tyrone, Mount Merrion, Galway, Ballsbridge-Sandymount & Donnybrook and Foxrock.
We left Dublin Port on a fine morning and had a very smooth crossing arriving safe and sound on Welsh soil. We travelled through north Wales and made a stop at Chester. Arrived ok in Lemington Spa, had a lovely dinner and were all in bed early ready with anticipation for the start of our adventures in the Heart of England.
After breakfast in the Angel Hotel, we met up with our guide, Ian Jelf, and what a find he turned out to be. Suitably fed and watered we headed north for Coventry with Ian taking the scenic route and managing to give us a “sneak” look at the ruins of Kenilworth Castle. Our first stop was the Cathedrals in Coventry. What a treat this was. It was something special to be able to compare and contrast the 14th Century Gothic St. Michaels, now in ruins, with the new St. Michaels built after the former was destroyed by German bombing during WW2. The old Cathedral ruins remain hallowed ground with only the tower, spire, outer walls and the effigy/tomb of the first Bishop surviving. The new cathedral consecrated in 1962 was special with many unique and impressive features including Graham Sutherland’s huge tapestry, the “Mater Dolorosa” sculpture by John Bridgeman, the baptistery windows by John Piper, the stained glass windows of the Nave and much more. We learned the story of the charred cross and the “cross of nails”, the latter becoming a symbol of peace and reconciliation all over the world.
After breakfast it was off to Shakespeare’s country and the beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon. Ian took us as usual on the scenic route through the lovely Warwickshire countryside and through many of the picturesque villages on route. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage awaited us and we were not disappointed. Set in its own beautiful gardens it presented a wonderful picture in the morning sunshine. There followed a fascinating tour of the house which contained much of the original furniture and captured the atmosphere of that period in the life of the family.
We took a coach tour of the village seeing all the houses associated with the bard and made a visit to the Holy Trinity Church to see the last resting place of William Shakespeare.
The third day of our adventures took us south to the magnificent Blenheim Palace, principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Built in the short lived English Baroque style between 1705-1722 it was a magnificent sight to see. Blenheim was the birthplace of the 1st Duke’s famous descendant, Winston Churchill and we were able to follow his life and times in viewing the permanent exhibition in the suite of rooms in which he was born. Steeped in history it presented a host of impressive and decorative rooms including the Chapel, the Library, the Salon and many others. The architecture was just breathtaking with a stunning building surrounded by some lovely gardens. We had a special treat before leaving Blenheim when we had our lunch in the Spencer-Churchill room with a panoramic view of the palace grounds.
Our guide, Ian, then took us on a linear walk past many of the beautiful and architecturally impressive buildings which go to make up this wonderful city. Included were the Great Quadrangle of Christ Church College, the Radcliff Camera, University College and the Bridge of Sighs. There were too many to mention all. It was a memorable day filled with history, beautiful gardens, and impressive buildings.
Sadly, after an early breakfast we bid farewell to the Angel Hotel, which had proved to be an excellent home for us with great facilities and service, and headed for Holyhead and our ferry back to the Emerald Isle.
This was another memorable visit to a beautiful and unique part of England’s heartland, one which we will all remember for the fond memories of the people and places we encountered on the way.