Ripon Visit by Prof. Sherry Ackerman

Below, Sherry Ackerman offers a third segment on her (wonderful!) trip to visit Keith and Liz Wright in the UK during the Fall of 2010. If you have missed either of the two previous installations, they can be found in issues April 2011,  and October 2011.  Alas both of these have still to be added to the website.

On the morning that we awoke to Keith’s announcement that we were headed up to Yorkshire, I had no idea what an incredible treat was in store! After a quick breakfast, we began wending our way up into Yorkshire. Those green hills certainly struck a chord in my heart! I lived twenty-two years in the State of Vermont, USA—and Yorkshire looked just like it. The large swathes of unspoiled, beautiful countryside—littered only with picturesque villages and genteel towns—made me feel as if I had been transported into a fairytale. Wonderland!

It was only later that I learned that Yorkshire had a population of almost 5 million people. That's more people than Norway. Indeed, Yorkshire's population is larger than Wales or Ireland, or New Zealand, or Albania, Lithuania, Estonia, Jamaica or Iceland. It is not far behind Denmark and there are almost as many Yorkshire folk as there are Scots. In fact, more than 28 of the states of America have a population that is smaller than that of Yorkshire!

Since, though, these 5 million persons are distributed over a vast and varied region of more than three and a half million acres, Yorkshire still forms one of the least densely populated parts of the UK. This fact, right then and there, made up my mind that if I were ever to move to the UK, it would be in the Yorkshire region! My memory is still alive with the livestock, grazing quietly on the lush hillsides, amidst colloquial stone buildings. Recently, a good friend of mine from here in my hometown of Mount Shasta, California, has moved to Yorkshire and she confirms my impressions of an ideal place to settle! (Of course, those of us from Mount Shasta are no strangers to snow and blustery winters!).

As if  the Yorkshire countryside wasn’t enough eye-candy, our next stop was Ripon! There, on the River Skell, sat the old Cathedral City that was alive with shops, cafes, restaurants, and pubs, as well as a full gamut of historical buildings and museums, including Ripon Cathedral. Keith had arranged a date for tea with Maurice Taylor and his wife Dorothy at a darling café within walking distance of the Cathedral. Maurice is an historian, with a specialty in Ripon, so our teatime was incredibly engaging. He was a veritable storehouse of knowledge about the history of the area—with an interest in Lewis Carroll, to ice the cake!

After tea, we strolled over to the Cathedral. It was impressive! There was such a strong mythic consciousness present in the architecture. It gave me pause to reflect on the various different environments to which Carroll had been exposed. This Cathedral, where his father had been canon, was so different than All Saints Church in Daresbury. I had a strong sense for the multifaceted childhood that Carroll had lived. The countryside around Daresbury, Croft-on-Tees, and Ripon were all so incredibly varied. It caused me to wonder if this were a factor in Carroll’s interest in ‘childhood’. Did Wonderland represent a collage of his eclectic ‘sense of place’?

The crown jewel of our outing to Ripon, though, was lunch at The Old Deanery. (See Image) When the surprise was unveiled, I was glad that I had chosen to dress up a bit for the day! After making our way down the cobbled street, we lounged with a glass of white wine before lunch and took in some croquet players on the back lawn. The playing field was gently un-level and reminded me of Alice’s own game, with the Queen of Hearts, of croquet. There were no flamingos on the croquet field of The Old Deanery, but it was, nonetheless, a wonderfully playful and charming game in-process.

Our lunches were splendid. We sat around a nice round table where everyone could enjoy the animated, interesting conversation. In the aesthetic dining room, with incredibly good service and food, all sense of time evaporated. We were there, as if years ago, enjoying the leisurely pace of Victorian life well-lived. And all present were friends of Lewis Carroll! It was a day that I shall long remember, fondly.

Just down from the Cathedral on the other side from the Old Deanery we saw the Old Hall where Lewis Carroll wrote some of his works.

In the next issue, I will share some of the highlights of our outing to Llandudno, as this was yet another—very different, but also very wonderful—piece of my sojourn to meet the real Lewis Carroll!

Sherry Ackerman

Dr. Sherry L. Ackerman is a retired American philosophy professor who has had a lifetime interest in—and love affair with—Lewis Carroll’s literature. She can’t explain it (like so many of us!), but she is just spell-bound by Carroll’s children’s literature. She is the author of Behind the Looking Glass, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2008). This book is scheduled to come out in Second Edition, under Everson Press, in October 2012.