I'm just back from a very satisfactory weekend away, slightly dismayed by the number of things I have to do before work tomorrow, but determined to share the highlights anyway.
Theoretically the best thing about living in the midlands is the number of interesting places that really aren't that far away. In practice this seems to boil down to making regular comments along the lines of 'we should really go to Harrogate' and then never doing it. Except this time we finally did. the thing with Harrogate is that people always say it's lovely, we regularly pass the signs on the way to and from Scotland, and neither of us had ever been.
It is lovely, if remarkable for the number of places selling bespoke kitchens and other interior design concerns. We both fell in love with a glorious copper bath (no price tag, couldn't afford to ask) and loved the tea and buns in Betty's, and both felt a few more book shops wouldn't have been a bad thing...
We also looked at a serious amount of ecclesiastical architecture. Rievaulx abbey, which is haunting, has a grace and beauty about it, it also has an excellent little museum with some extremely powerful remaims of carved heads (they're quite coarse and primitive compared to much of what I've seen, but they have real presence - more than enough to put the fear of God into you) and little odds and ends which make the destruction that accompanied the dissolution of the monasteries suddenly starkly real. They also have a very good tea shop that does extremely generous slices of very good cake.
After Rievaulx, which I'd thought was pretty impressive size wise, we went to Fountains abbey (National Trust rather than English Heritage, soulless tea shop, disappointing cake). I was momentarily distracted by a herd of giant Schnauzers (7 of them, they were really nice dogs) and then floored by the size of the place. It's the most effective demonstration I've ever had of what the power and wealth of the church meant in this country pre reformation. The site looks like it could be the ruins of a reasonable sized town rather than a single institution. It really deserved a whole day rather than the couple of hours we had, and I can't say often enough just how huge it is. I mean really big.
There was also the nearby church at Studley Royal to look at which is a mad Victorian confection with some glorious details, and on the way home Harewood house and the impressive collection of alabaster effigies in All Saints church there, including one that's had a witch mark carved on it. There's the start of a great story in that.
More than that I managed to realise a long cherished ambition (details soon) and found a hitherto elusive book, so altogether a very satisfactory weekend indeed.