Posts Tagged ‘church’

I’m Contemplating Becoming a Monk

Friday, October 17th, 2014

I have visited a few monasteries in my life and life as a monk doesn’t seem so bad. You get to garden a lot, the time for silence and reflection means you don’t have to listen to annoying people, and you get to live in a seriously awesome building. I suspect my gender and my hesitancy to commit to religious practise means my two years living at Les Récollets, an ex-13th century convent, in Paris is most likely the closest I will ever get to my new life goal. That’s a shame. So instead I will simply continue to visit this spectacular buildings and make the most of the tranquility while I am there.

On one of my first days in Manchester, I was catching a train into Piccadilly station with my cousin, Caroline. She pointed out a beautiful old building through the window and said that it was a monastery that had been done up and was now used for concerts and events. The monastery sat in the back of my mind as a place that I should go and visit and when Sir Pubert Gladstone mentioned that there was a beautiful monastery in the middle of one Manchester’s dodgier suburbs, I put two and two together. I had found myself a chauffeur.

So let’s talk about Gorton. I asked my friend, Jon (Garden Boy), to tell me his thoughts on Gorton. I figured an opinion from a local would hold far more value than my outsider thoughts. Here’s what he had to say:

“Gorton is predominantly social housing, burnt out cars and a really minute amount of incredible architecture. There is a unusual phenomenon of people collecting ‘potentially valuable objects’ in their front yard. There are piles of sofas and general junk that they hope might one day be worth something.

It is the one part of Manchester that even the people from the roughest parts of Manchester have an innate fear of visiting.

There are areas of waste land that no one has dared venture into for over 50 years due purely to a deeply imbedded fear.

Jon did one have positive thing to say about Gorton.

Gorton Tub was the one swimming pool in Manchester with slides. The nearest one for a hundred miles. It was probably closed down due to some sort of horrible event.

I think that and these Multiple Deprivation statistics showing Gorton as being ranked 407 out of 32,482 in England, where one is the most deprived and 32,482 the least, highlight that Gorton isn’t high on the ‘must visit’ list. According to Wikipedia, in 2006 it also had the highest number of uninsured cars in the country.

So who would have thought, that nestled amongst the deprivation and bingo centres, there would be a Franciscan monastery? Built between 1863 and 1872, the monastery was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World and received a £6.5million upgrade.

Gorton monastery

A lovely piece of architecture.

Sir Pubert and I visited the monastery on Sunday during its limited public opening hours. It was like someone had stuck the Disney castle in the middle of a war zone. Surreal yet beautiful. Having visited a lot of rejuvenated buildings during my travels, the Gorton Monastery has received some of the best upgrades that I have seen. Thought has been taken to ensure the building is functional but also retains its original essence. There is a central courtyard garden that has that instant calming affect that gardens inside large religious buildings tend to have. You step outside and automatically feel at peace with the world. It was lovely.

Gorton monastery

The courtyard garden

The monastery is now the location for concerts, weddings and courses and is hired out for private functions. I’m not one of those girls who is secretly planning her perfect wedding, but even I have to admit to thinking that it would be a great venue to get hitched in. But I just looked at the prices and I’ve stopped thinking that.

Gorton monastery

They even managed to make pink LEDs look good.

So for anyone planning a trip to Gorton, definitely pop the monastery on the list of things to see. I’d say it is the #1 highlight of the area, now that Gorton Tub has been closed down.

Parson’s Nose, 1940s Porn, and England’s Most Forgettable Town Names

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Yesterday was yet another Bank Holiday in England – May is full of them. The sun was shining so Sir Pubert Gladstone and I headed out to an antiques market in Nantwich. We were welcomed with open arms, a “It’s nice to have some young people here” and free chocolate eclairs to suck on as we wandered around the 40 or so stalls selling gems from yesteryear. There was an interesting mix of items on sale ranging from postcards, jewellery, decorative vases and enough ceramic dogs/cats/horses/birds/etc to fill a zoo. A highlight was a copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Managementan in-depth guide to how to run a successful household, originally written in the 1860s. Offering recipe suggestions for a shooting party and cures for stammering, it contains every piece of useful information a woman or housemaid could ever need. Plus more.

There were also multiple stalls selling vintage Playboy magazines and I had a lengthy conversation with two older gentlemen about the quality of the hand drawn images in 1940s porn. Apparently we HAD to see Batgirl – such great drawing skills and particularly conical breasts. I had won their confidence by spotting a missing book of locomotive postcards, which led to me being allowed to “slip into my pocket” a set of Lyons Tea cards about Australia. According to Card #4, Perth has a population of 376,000.

Perth has changed a bit.

Perth has changed a bit.

After learning about naked ladies, we went for a walk around Nantwich, making a beeline for the city’s church, St Mary’s. We were again warmly welcomed (although no eclairs or pornography this time) and encouraged to explore the impressive 14th century construction. A very friendly volunteer told us about the intricate carvings within the chancel and pointed out a specific detail highlighting the craftsman’s clear dislike for the vicar. Subtly carved into one of the choir stalls is a dodo with the face of the vicar protruding from its rear-end. Apparently this was a play on the derogatory saying of “Parson’s nose.” Very amusing.

Our Bank Holiday adventure continued with a random drive following road signs in the hope of discovering something interesting and exciting. The car went into autopilot when we spotted a sign for a “Microbrewery,” however the signs quickly disappeared and we never found it. All wasn’t lost, however, as we managed to stumble across a town whose name we managed to forget every time we wanted to remember where we were. Even as I write this I need to go to Google maps and find the town to tell you it was called Audlem. This small Cheshire town was going off; bars, sports grounds and local cafés were surrounded by stalls and stages celebrating the Audlem Music Festival and the Union Jack was flying proudly down the streets of the town. Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine and supporting local bands. We went for a wander and managed to spot two men with mullet hair cuts in less than 30 minutes. WIN. We sat and had a beer while listening to groups of teenage boys perform on stage and tried hard to memorise and pronounce the name of the town we were in – Ord-Lem? Owd-lem?

Audlem town centre

Audlem town centre

The unpronounceable and easily-forgettable town names continued as we headed back to Manchester and drove through a place called Wybunbury. Even the Brit driving the car couldn’t say this easily. Why-Bun-bury? Wib-unbry? Who knows. We considered asking a local but didn’t want to offend.


Monday, August 27th, 2012

My trip to Italy was wonderful – good food, nice people, astonishingly beautiful views. Lake Como is one of those places in the world that make you wonder how somewhere like that can exist. A little piece of natural beauty – a super model of nature. I spent one and a half days in Milan and was somewhat disappointed with the city. I had been told by various Italian friends that it wasn’t the most beautiful city in Italy – they were right. It has pockets of ‘nice’ that make up for the general concrete-box architecture, but I can’t say I wanted to stay there for much longer. Maybe if I was rich and wanted to go shopping at Chanel, Prada and D&G I would have been more entertained, but as your average adventurer there wasn’t much to see.


The canal in the Navigli area was my favourite part of Milan.

I met up with my brother and parents in Bellagio, a small town on the edge of Lake Como. Most of the towns scattered around the lake now operate as tourist resorts and while I had gone there expecting tourists, I don’t think I had adequately prepared myself. Lots of souvenir shops, inflated prices, average food and annoying tourists. Thankfully our way of travelling made us remove ourselves as much as possible from these situations and we explored beyond the tourist track, met some locals and sampled some decent food.

Lake Como


Overall I was a little disappointed with my food intake – not so much as far as quantity but the quality wasn’t what I was hoping for. This is to be expected in a tourist-filled zone where food is produced to please international taste buds en masse rather than offering a REAL experience. The best pizza I ate was in Milan at a restaurant I picked because it was full of locals.

Pizza in Milan

Pizza Caprese

The best gelato was from a gourmet, hipster café, Ronchi, in Como whose cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) was beyond amazing.

Gelato from Ronchi

The colour says it all.

The best experience of the trip happened on our last day in Bellagio. We had spotted a small church on the other side of the lake and on top of a hill and as we had run out of tourist ferries to take, we decided to walk there.

San Martino

Our destination

I felt very holy and considered converting to Catholicism as we made our way up (and I mean UP) a twisty path that went through towns, forests, gorges and along the edge of cliffs. The view from the top was spectacular – looking down to the lake and across at the mountain ranges. I was surprised by the number of other people who were walking the trail, but it also provided a pleasant relief from the swarms of tourists in the towns.

San Martino

Heading uphill

San Martino

The reward for making it to San Martino

For more photographs of my trip in Italy (we’re talking over 400), visit my Flickr site. To really know what Lake Como looks like, go there.