Reading, Research, and Rainy Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle

20 March 2010 | 1 Comment

Beware the ides of March! The middle of March came and I’m feeling the onslaught of homework. Part of it is my fault, due to my partial procrastination, but part of it is that I’m working under very different circumstances than I’m used to. Calvin College is much more regimented than York St John in that readings, for instance, are usually assigned with given due dates, thus chapters and pages to read are delineated in a comprehensive syllabus. Here, I am given a booklist and expected to read at my own pace. This is nice in that it gives me more independence on what textbooks I choose to read and when, but I’m used to more structure and formality in my classes. I have 3 large essays to write for my YSJ classes and the topics for each essay are so broad I barely know where to begin. (Currently I have 6 books that I’m perusing for my media modules and 5 volumes I’m skimming through for my history module.)

Yet another part that is motivating me to do so much homework before spring break is the fact that I have about a million things due in the two weeks following break (that was an exaggeration, but it always feels like too much when I’m in the moment). Three weeks is a long time to be away from studies (that’s how long our spring break is!). Also, my parents are coming to visit me at the end of April, and I really want to have a good time with them and not worry about handing in essays or reading vast tracts of books when they are visiting York. I often have to remind myself to just breathe. There is no doubt I am having the time of my life and changing and growing in ways I never expected. Years from now I probably won’t remember the stress and worries I have as much as the good, fun times.

Speaking of breathing… Sunday I had a lazy day after I got back from Bath and Stonehenge. All I did was read, read, read Middlemarch and blog and post pictures on Facebook. So far I am quite proud of how much I’ve been able to keep up with this blog and with uploading pictures for friends and family back home. I originally envisioned that I would have no time whatsoever to reflect on my excursions and to label hundreds of pictures, but this, overall, doesn’t feel that different from a regular semester now that I’m into the groove of things (as much as I can be on a semester abroad). … Other than working on questions for my upcoming Oral Histories project with my partner, Megan, Sunday was just a catch-up day… ending with a glorious sunset where the clouds simply tumbled away over the chimneys of the houses behind the Grange (where I live). That’s what I mean when I talk about breathing…

Clouds simply tumble away over the chimneys of the houses behind the Grange at sunset

Clouds simply tumble away over the chimneys of the houses behind the Grange at sunset

I have no more formal lectures for my Medium is the Message class, just something called “tutorials” left. Tutorials are when you meet with your tutor (professor) one-on-one to talk about the essays you are writing. This meant I had all Monday afternoon to do homework instead of sitting in a stifling room listening to a lecture on media. Yet another chance to catch up. I promised myself I would make this week a homework week, so spent all night toiling away at research for my Roads to Revolution essay. But there’s only so much research one can handle in a night, so I detoxed myself by watching a whole string of videos on YouTube from Alex Day (the “nerimon” channel). He’s this hilarious British guy (around my age) who goes on hysterical rants about a wide variety of subjects, including series called “Alex Reads Twilight” in which pokes fun at Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight as he reads through it chapter-by-chapter. … I won’t bore you with Tuesday. It was much of the same story, except that I had a conference with Prof. Ward in the afternoon (as we are required to at some point) in his office. Even though I had much of Middlemarch to start on for Thursday, I didn’t, because I was doing research for my other classes. It’s always hard to strike a balance.

I totally forgot it was St Patrick’s Day on Wednesday until I called one of my hostels that I’ll be staying at in Northern Ireland. The reception was closed for the day and the man who answered the phone said something like “You know it’s St Patrick’s Day, right?” I forgot to wear green, wearing my Berlin, German, shirt instead, but I don’t think the Irish were offended. I’ll be in their country in a matter of weeks anyway. … Another phone call I made was for an entirely different reason. As part of our Oral Histories project for our British Culture class, we are supposed to interview an elderly British person or couple. So Megan and I called our assigned couple from St Thomas’s Church–a Mr and Mrs Nye–and arranged for a meeting at the Costa Coffee in the Fountains Learning Centre on campus for the following afternoon. Mr Nye was very friendly on the phone, easing my nerves about calling people I’ve never met before.

I spent the afternoon reading. First I went to Caffè Nero, and even though I had a hot chocolate to warm me up, for some reason I couldn’t concentrate. So I moved to the York Minster Library. It was deathly silent there, so I got more reading done, but in a way, it was too silent. Finally I moved to the Holgate lobby on campus. I think my mind had just given up on finding a good place to read at that point, and I actually started reading well just before dinner! Argh! Unfortunately, I did not go out to an Irish pub for St Patrick’s Day. Homework and reading (the theme of this post) had been too pressing on my mind, so I stayed in reading and writing. Somewhat lame, but probably necessary.

I finished the assigned reading of Books IV and V of Middlemarch the next morning just in time for class at 12:30 PM. (I had read all but 3 chapters.) We continued our discussion in class about the multitude of characters in George Eliot’s book. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the characters were so psychologically realistic and deep. It makes for complicated discussions that are difficult to follow at times, especially when we get into characters’ motives.

An Interview with Mr and Mrs Nye

At 2:30 PM, Megan and I met with Mr and Mrs Nye at the Costa Coffee. They were one of the most delightful couples I’ve ever met. They had such wonderful life stories and interesting personalities. I’ll be writing all about it in my Oral Histories project in April, and perhaps I will post that story to this blog later so you can learn a bit about them as well. Megan and I asked questions mostly about their childhood, families, and how they met and what their wedding was like. We didn’t have a particular focus other than family life, but this meeting was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had in England yet.

After our interview, I trekked to the rail station to pick up train tickets for my parents (when they come to England). I also scouted out the bed and breakfast they will be staying at so that I know how far away from the Grange they will be. It appeared to be in a lovely neighborhood on the quiet side of town with lots of cute little patio gardens and trellises. I think the parents will really enjoy it! … Fran paid for my dinner that night because, she told me, she has too many meal vouchers lefts. That’s what I’ve been hearing from a lot of Lord Mayor’s Walk students. All I know is, I’ve been saving money living in the Grange and going to the dining hall, so I guess it makes sense why they all have so many vouchers left.

Friday I had a fiasco with stamps. After a morning of more homework, I journeyed to the post office downtown to buy more stamps. I had several postcards to send back to the states, but not enough postage. One of the Post and Go machines was dysfunctional, so I unthinkingly bought the wrong stamps. I need at least 62p to send a postcard to the U.S., but I bought 39p letter stamps. I gave up and went to the desk and got a refund for half of my stamps and the nice lady working there helped me stick a 22p and a 1p stamp (and airmail stickers) on the remainder of my postcards, making them very colorful indeed. And it’s not like I haven’t sent a postcard before… The people at home getting these cards are going to think I went bonkers over here in England! Ha!

After another long day homeworking, I went to Dean’s house to help celebrate 3 peoples’ birthdays that are this weekend: Eva, Liz, and Jennifer K. We had scrumptious cake and ice cream, grapes, fruit snacks, and soda, and good conversation as usual.

Rievaulx Abbey

Exploring the ruins of the abbey and monastery at Rievaulx under our umbrellas

Exploring the ruins of the abbey and monastery at Rievaulx under our umbrellas

Finally I get to my last R in the title: Rievaulx Abbey (pronounced “ree-VOH”). And–okay, not R, but Helmsley Castle. Rainy because it was the wettest excursion yet. I woke up to a blank grey sky and rain–and it stayed that way–ALL day. About half of us had our umbrellas up most of the day. All I could do was think of the Rihanna song (thanks, Joe Garbini)…

Under my umbrella, -ella, -ella, eh, eh, eh... at Rievaulx Abbey!

Under my umbrella, -ella, -ella, eh, eh, eh… at Rievaulx Abbey!

Rievaulx and Helmsley are only about an hour away from York. Rievaulx is the site of a ruined Cistercian abbey and monastery. The Cistercians were a strict branch of the Benedictines who preferred secluding themselves in nature, hence Rievaulx was built in a rural part of Yorkshire. I really don’t know too much about the sites we visited today, but Rievaulx, founded in 1132, is supposedly the largest abbey and monastery ruins in England. (Someone can fact check me on that). All I can say is that Rievaulx Abbey is certainly larger than the ruins at Whitby Abbey, which we visited at the beginning of the semester.

Rievaulx Abbey itself = ginormous

Rievaulx Abbey itself = ginormous

Most of our excursions so far have had something to do with what we are reading in British Literature class, but Rievaulx and Helmsley did not. We were there to simply soak up the culture and history–while the ground soaked up all the water from the sky that it could. … According to one of the brochures I picked up, “2010 marks the golden age of Rievaulx and the 900th birthday of its ‘celebrity Abbot’ St Aelred.” Another pamphlet tells me that “under Aelred the community grew to 140 choir monks and 500 lay-brothers and servants.” He was the third abbot of Rievaulx.

Jenica and John wandering about the ruins of the chapel at Rievaulx

Jenica and John wandering about the ruins of the chapel at Rievaulx

Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle was nearby. Originally we were going to hike to the castle from the abbey, but since it was raining, we cheated and took the coach. Helmsley is built above an impressive ditch or moat. There’s no water in the ditch anymore (if there ever was water there), and most of the castle is gone except for one tower and a Tudor/Elizabethan era mansion. At one point, it seemed as though a huge chuck of the castle tower had collapsed into the ditch. Again, I don’t know much about the history of this medieval castle, but it was still cool to see. In some way, the mist and fog that accompanied the rain accented the old stonework and made me feel very English.

Dean with his super-cool hat standing below the one remaining tower at the ruins of Helmsley Castle

Dean with his super-cool hat standing below the one remaining tower at the ruins of Helmsley Castle

Our professor, Dean Ward, at Helmsley Castle

Our professor, Dean Ward, at Helmsley Castle

The grounds of Helmsley Castle

The grounds of Helmsley Castle

The raindrops on the windowpane perfectly describe our day

The raindrops on the windowpane perfectly describe our day

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the town of Helmsley. It wasn’t a particularly remarkable town, but I got a few pasties from Thomas the Baker for lunch and a banana milkshake at Potters Coffee House. Even though I knew it was sort of a no-no to bring food into another place that sells food, I ate my pasties in the coffee shop anyway. The only other thing I did was browse in a few antique shops and look inside All Saints Catholic Church, which, it turns out, had some beautiful paintings on the walls inside. … The goal for the rest of my weekend: finish my assigned Middlemarch reading on time and keep plugging away at my researching and writing of essays. In less than a week I’ll be in London and off to Italy, Ireland, and the Netherlands for my spring break!

All Saints Catholic Church in Helmsley - check out the dainty white flowers and the funky trees

All Saints Catholic Church in Helmsley – check out the dainty white flowers and the funky trees


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One Response

  1. Jessica says:

    Beautiful pictures, William! Thanks for sharing them!

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