Monday, June 12, 2006

The Anchorite Cell

Some people write in sheds, others write on the kitchen table. I am lucky enough to have a study, but I am going to show you what I think could be the writer's perfect den.

In my opinion the prerequisite for an ideal den for a writer is isolation with few distractions except, perhaps, to have the option of looking out onto something beautiful...


This is the river Dee, and that is the old Dee bridge. The village you can see on the other side of the river is called Handbridge, and because it is on the south side of the bridge and therefore nearer to Wales, it was frequently 'razed to the ground' by marauding ancestors of mine when the mood took them.

Along the river there is part of the city wall which dates from Roman times -as you can see made from a fine old red sandstone which is quite soft and is frequently worn away so that the mortar stands proud.

This wall goes right round the city, which has been very handy for keeping out my marauding ancestors and it is still the law that it is perfectly acceptable to shoot by arrow any Welsh person caught within the walls after the gates are shut - so I am careful to play down the accent and have cunningly got rid of my Welsh surname by getting married - all part of the great plan.

Nowadays, of course, thing are deceptively peaceful, and it is all right to risk bringing out your child for a stroll,


go for a trip along the river in a boat,

or listen to a virtual band concert with no band playing.

Opposite the bandstand is an enticing little path,

and further along it is possible to glimpse where it leads. This is the Anchorage Cell which was in the chapel of St James close to St John's church - all of which are now in (rather picturesque) ruins. According to Gerald of Wales (1146-1223), a scribe and historian, this is the place where the wounded King Harold II spent his final years after being wounded in the battle of Hastings (after being shot in the eye with an arrow, though I don't think he was Welsh). This is dismissed by many as folk lore and most people think this place was built as a hermitage - a place for solitude and contemplation - and in the fourteenth century there are several records of it being occupied by monks, which makes me think it would make an ideal writer's den.

There are also reports of ghosts - a monk which can be seen as a grey shadowy figure crossing this bowling green when the time is right (or you've had too many -most of the sighting of ghosts in Chester ('most haunted city in the UK') occur in pubs, I've noticed).

I like the way this building seems to grow out of the bedrock, and the way it seems to have continued to grow into the land around it, as though it continues to be part of it - a comfortable, harmonious place. I also like the idea of somewhere small being built so long ago just for the business of contemplation. Not that being a hermit seems to have been so very contemplative, or lonely or at all austere. During the fourteenth century there are references to several anchorites attached to various chapels in Chester, so it must have been quite a popular and normal activity at the time, and in 1300 a maidservant of an anchoress was involved in a lawsuit - so domestic drudgery was not involved either. Things seem to have gone further downhill in the following century when John Benet, a hermit of St James in Handbridge (the village across the Dee mentioned above), was accused of 'receiving robbers, sheltering common malefactors and keeping a brothel'. So not much contemplation going on there then, either.

However today it seems so peaceful and quiet, tucked away, a small place, just enough room for one - so there would be absolutely no excuse at all not to get on with it, and the words would just pour forth, I am sure.

10 Comments:

Blogger Tammy said...

I love HISTORY! This was a lovely journey, while having my coffee. This would be a cool den for sure. I bet that ghost could tell a few tales? You left me wanting more :)

Mon Jun 12, 03:07:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thanks Tammy. Yes, I reckon that ghost has a good few yarns.

Mon Jun 12, 03:56:00 pm  
Blogger Maxine said...

Hello, I came here via a posting at the deblog, and I really loved reading your post. Thank you.
I am based in Kingston upon Thames and my blog Petrona is at http:petrona.typepad.com if you want to come over sometime. I am also interested in science.
all the best
Maxine.

Mon Jun 12, 07:33:00 pm  
Blogger Susan said...

Lovely post and lovely pictures. Thank you for sharing it. I also arrived via the deblog!

Mon Jun 12, 08:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Maxine: Just been going through your blog - thanks for the link - thought that picture of you and your two girls sitting at the table each one peering into laptops both charming and funny - a snapshot of modern life. I'll be back...

Susan: Hello again and thank you - just been having a quick trip through your blog too. I really like that painting - a great character - a kind of roly poly dominitrix - hugely appealing.

Tue Jun 13, 12:00:00 pm  
Anonymous crimeficreader said...

All lovely pix Clare. So good to see something online that makes me want to visit and experience it for its life and its reality. This looks a treasure. I especially like the bridge shot. Some sense of serenity. Most bridges these days are catapulted into the here and now by tail to tail queues of cars etc... Is this bridge the last bastion of tranquility perhaps?

Wed Jun 14, 02:01:00 am  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I tried to post a comment yesterday but it splodged and dodged and went off on its own into the ether - anyway ... here I am now!
I wanted to say how enjoyable this post was - great photos and that cell sounds as if it is just what I need!

Wed Jun 14, 08:46:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

Chief Biscuit: That keeps happening to me too. Then I think in my small brain that I've actually made the comment - forgetting that the thing didn't actually go in. It's a hard life when you're permanantly confused, like me.

Thanks for persisting though.

Wed Jun 14, 11:24:00 pm  
Blogger Patry Francis said...

I have a study, too, but would infinitely prefer a place where I could escape the phone...(Is there such a place on earth these days?)

Thu Jun 15, 02:00:00 am  
Anonymous clare said...

Patry: I think I need somewhere that's interent free - but then I'd miss it too much, probably.

Sat Jun 17, 09:01:00 am  

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