Friday, 11 October 2013

Coventry - and an Unexpected Musical Treat!

Friday 11th October, 2013 in Coventry.
A bright start, but rain followed later in the day. The sunrise filtered through pylons rather than trees today!
We set off from the junction with the North Oxford Canal down the last six miles of the Coventry Canal into the centre of Coventry.
This length of canal has long had a bad press; understandably, given the tracts of wasteland and derelict buildings - and so much detritus in the canal that R was down the weed hatch more than once, disentangling the propellor from the accumulated rubbish. To be fair, the city fathers are trying to revitalise the canal as a "Greenway" into the city centre, but they still have a way to go!
We passed "Cash's Hundred Houses", buildings constructed for Cash's name tape workers, with accommodation on the lower two floors and weaving workshops on the top floor. Only 48 of the hundred were ever built and only 37 of those survive, but they are handsome buildings, now converted into apartments.
By contrast to the canal, the Canal Basin in the city centre was very attractive with several historic wharf buildings, including a pigeon coop.
Even Mr Brindley was to be seen assiduously studying his canal guide book for the best route for the next part of MM's journey!
The rain began in the afternoon and continued for the rest of the day. We walked into the centre and were intrigued by the mixture of buildings. Coventry was heavily bombed in November 1940, therefore much of its architecture is fairly ugly post-war, yet there are real gems of older buildings, giving a glimpse of what a lovely city it once was.
One gem was definitely the statue of Lady Godiva riding side-saddle on her horse. The poor lady must have been perishingly cold if it was a day like today with all the wind and rain! Good job she had such long tresses to hide her modesty.
The real reason for walking into the city was to see the "new" cathedral. It was consecrated in 1962, and in that year, M had come up from Reigate with a school party to see it. It was new and quite controversial so she had to queue for two hours to get in. M had not liked the modern architecture then and was curious to see if she liked it any better 50 years later. The answer was that she definitely DID NOT! We both agreed that seventy foot high grey concrete interior walls do not inspire. Nevertheless, we did like the old ruined catherdral, the tall south window with its engraved figures and the Baptistry window with its magnificent colours.
However, it was well worth the effort of going in, as it turned out that a real treat was in store. As ever, the unexpected treats are the best.
By pure chance, there was a concert scheduled for this evening and, as we walked into the cathedral, the orchestra began rehearsing. Immediately we recognised the opening notes of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis - M's very favourite piece of music! We sat in the centre of the cathedral and listened to the orchestra play the piece right through. It almost as if it were a private performance just for us, there were only half a dozen people in the whole cathedral! The sound was sublime. It resonated and filled the empty space. We sat entranced!
Apart from the few people wandering round the cathedral, the only "listeners" were the cello cases standing in the aisles, listening intently to their owners' exquisite music!
Any thoughts of moving on today were immediately banished and we went to buy tickets for the evening performance. It was the London Sinfonia conducted by Stephen Layton with the Cathedral Choir and, in addition to the Vaughan Williams, they were doing the Fauré Requiem, a piece that we both love and know well. The seats were just £10, and the lovely lady at the desk with whom we got chatting, very kindly reserved seats for us right in the centre (for everyone else, it was first come, first served).
The performance in the evening was superb. Predictably, with several hundred people attending, the sound didn't quite have the richness and depth of our "personal" performance in the afternoon; that was an experience probably never to be repeated, but it was still a wonderful concert.

The ruins of the old cathedral were floodlit as we left. Quite magical in the dark. What a wonderful day!
Today: 5 miles, 1 lock and 2.5 hours.
Trip: 529 miles, 335 locks and 424.9 hours.

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