A drive round the best British sites from the Dark Ages
The ancient stone steps are worn by a thousand footfalls as they wind deep beneath the nave of the cathedral, through passages so narrow you must turn sideways. I passed tiny alcoves stained black from dripping oil lamps that originally lit the way for St Wilfred more than 1,300 years ago.
I’ve toured many of our best-known Saxon sights – but creeping into Wilfred’s simple arch-vaulted crypt under Ripon Cathedral is the closest I’ve felt to Britain’s ‘Dark Ages’.
After the Romans left Britain around 400AD there’s a black hole of history until the Norman’s came a conquering in 1066. It’s a mysterious period with few records, relics or remains. There are more tourist attractions from pre-historic and Roman eras than from this more recent span of seven centuries.
So to celebrate Easter – a seasonal celebration dating back to the Saxon’s goddess Eostre – I’m going on a driving tour to reveal some of Britain’s best Anglo-Saxon sights. Can we cast some light on our Dark Ages?
I’ll start up in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, driving from Wilfred’s crypt in the charming North Yorkshire market town of Ripon, north to Lindisfarne Abbey on Holy Island, off the coast of present-day Northumberland. This must be a journey that the much-travelled Wilfred would have taken many times.
On the way, he must have stopped in Durham. If you stop there too, you’ll find the Cathedral holds the tombs of England’s other Saxon superstars: St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. And further north, pop into Jarrow, the site of an unlikely family theme park. ‘Bede World’ mixes a chance to stroke Hilda the wild boar with exhibitions about ‘the Einstein of his day’. Artful displays of Saxon artefacts include details of how Bede worked out the precise date of Easter each year – devising a formula that is still used today.