WASHINGTON, D.C. — London is Britain’s epicenter, and it holds plenty of sites and stories of interest to faith travelers. Stops like Westminster and St. Paul’s cathedrals, and the British Museum’s collection of ancient Christian artifacts are among the must-see attractions.
A comprehensive thematic look at England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland could take years of touring. Afterall, the layers are deeper than the Roman era. So it’s good to bite off the centuries of heritage by regions. Start with a pathway just outside London or Manchester north to the Scottish border where urban congestion is less of a factor. You’ll find a full plate of heritage and contemporary interests in either area. Fall is a magnificent time to get acquainted with these destinations.
Oxford and the beautiful rolling Cotswolds region are popular destinations within an hour’s ride outside the city. If you’re up for left side driving, a car tour through the lanes and roadways yields lots of reasons to stop for major attractions like the sprawling Blenheim Palace. This quaint, historic area of villages with thatched roofs and other charming features is where Winston Churchill was born.
The beautiful medieval City of Oxford has been an academic center for 1,000 years. It’s defined by the iconic buildings, spires, colleges and gardens that comprise the oldest English-speaking university in the world.
Check out tours of the university’s real estate and add Christian heritage sites like the Reformers Monument to protestant martyrs and the cathedral. Founded by Cardinal Wolsey as Cardinal’s College in 1524, the 12th century church is one of the city’s oldest buildings and the only church in the world to be both a cathedral and a college chapel.
Bodleian Library is part of the university, and dates to 1427. It has been a copyright library since 1610, which means it receives a copy of every book published in the UK. The Divinity School, dating to the 15th century, is the library’s oldest building, and it has a stunning vaulted stone ceiling that has looked down on generations of theology students.
C.S. Lewis was an Oxford don and resident for many years, and walking tours of his sites comprise his suburban home - The Kilns - his gravesite and church Holy Trinity, and his favorite watering holes: The Eagle and Child or Mason Arms. Terry Bremble, an expert city guide, gives excellent Lewis tours. Visitoxfordshire.org
Accessible from Manchester
Arrival by air in Manchester will put you in good access to several important heritage cities in England’s north.
Find Roman, Viking, Saxon, Georgian and Edwardian heritage overlays in York, whose centerpiece is the famed York Minster that is one of Europe’s grandest Gothic cathedrals. Its collection of medieval stained glass has earned it the “Sistine Chapel of stained glass” moniker. A meander through York’s medieval district will add to the mood of reflection about its many eras of heritage.
Christianity came early to this city – probably in 4th century – because Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor of York. Also, the city already had its own bishop by the year 314, implying that a Christian community had been established for some time – and likely before the faith was officially tolerated by the Romans. The first church was built on the site around 623 A.D. The present church took shape over 250 years in construction, and was consecrated in 1472. The great British anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce worshipped here, and there’s a plaque in his honor on one of the walls.
Out and about, York has a great lineup of traditional pubs where travelers can continue their emersion in the local heritage – old and new.
Durham’s castle and cathedral comprise a UNESCO World Heritage site and are considered singular examples of Norman architecture. Both were built in the 11th century, following Norman conquest of Britain. The castle was built to protect the Bishop of Durham from attack, and is an excellent example of a motte and bailey castle. It has been occupied since 1840 by University College, Durham City, and is open for tours, with low-rate B&B accommodations available during university holidays. The cathedral dates to 1093 and houses the Treasures of St. Cuthbert, the 7th century saint of Lindisfarne. Objects on display include Cuthbert’s cross and coffin.
Durham’s medieval layout harkens to its earliest days, but there are later eras on display in Victorian indoor markets and shopping centers. Durham University’s Botanic Garden and the DLI Museum, Durham Art Gallery, and its Oriental Museum can add wonderful diversity to a city visit.
A fascinating Durham overnight stay or dining is at Lumley Castle Hotel. Mead and entertainment by Lords and Ladies of the Court are on this Norman castle’s Elizabethan weekend banquets, along with its draped and tasseled bedchambers. The castle has roots in the 10th century, and like all good castles, has a ghost – Lily of Lumley – the ill-fated wife of a former owner. Multiple stairwells and labyrinths set the mood. Dining in the Lumley’s Black Knight restaurant is fine enough for a Lord – or the most exacting guest.
England’s famed Lake Country mountains, lakes and meadows can be a welcome add-on to a fall cultural tour north of Manchester. Include Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top House and the surroundings that inspired her animal adventures near Lake Windermere. Add in poet William Wordsworth’s 17th century farmhouse, Dove Cottage, and soak up the literary vibes.. Combined with the centuries of Christian and cultural heritage, it’s a tour for making memories that will last.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s Contemporary Christian Travel columns in the Washington Times Communities.
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