23 September 2014

Like every year since 2012, PyCon Uk has taken me to Coventry city, and on the day after the conference has finished, I found a little time between checking out and taking a train to explore the city. Last year, I saw the shopping areas - not the best side to the city. This year, I looked for the historic areas, and this city really has a great deal of beautiful places to offer.

Note on walking in Coventry

Outside the city centre, with the ring roads and junctions, Coventry first appears to be a city made only for cars, not particularly pedestrian friendly. But once through the ring road as you approach the student quarter and the historic parts, the roads narrow, the pavements widen, and the message here is that pedestrians are given a clear preference.

This is great for exploring, and wandering to food and drink in the evenings too. I really like this part. The ring road itself has some underpasses which I am not a fan of, but they are well lit and didn’t seem to be unsafe, albeit a little confusing sometimes.

As you go into the student quarter from the south of the city (where the Technology park is), there are unknown ruins, old archways and other interesting parts too.

The Whitefriars Inn

While going to PyCon Uk, this has become a regular drinking place - a pub which oozes ancient with great stonework, and fantastically odd named real ales too. It has a bright garden area, with unusual old machinery.

Talking with locals, I found out that this used to be a butchers shop in living memory, and has only later been made into a pub, and as the pub landlords took it over, they spent time restoring the ancient character - doing a very good and convincing job. If you are in Coventry, this is a lively place to drink in. It is in the student quarter too.

The Queen Mary Guildhall

On Bailey lane, the Guildhall is an ancient building where the guilds and councils met in chambers, and Mary Queen of Scots was detained here - to prevent her being in the public eye - both for her safety, and to prevent an uprising centring around her.

The Guildhall has old armour and possibly has rooms used as an armoury. The council meeting chambers - lavishly panelled with ancient furnishings, great halls that is used for events (with a cheeky bar), secret doors and passageways and elaborate bell contraptions so councillors could summon serving staff to the chambers.

At the bottom, there is a restaurant and coffee shop too. I loved this place - and noticing detail, where parts have been rebuilt over centuries (not just after blitz, but a number of times before), rooms that lean slightly alarmingly, tapestries, stained glass windows too.

The Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Shot

This is astounding - and the tower can be seen for quite a way around, but is only a glimpse of what there really is to offer there. Opposite the Guildhall, you see the ruins, and through them the canopy of the new Cathedral - almost giving a stage like appearance and framed. The Cathedral ruins were preserved when many other ruins were flattened or rebuilt, and it has a very peaceful, erie and interesting feel.

The internal structure and walls are all there, with a large cross constructed from the burn timbers of the roof, and plaques explaining how this was a place of reconciliation and remembrance.

Because of the day I went - the students fresher fair was also happening while I was there, so the peace of the cathedral was contrasted with the bustle, noise and music of the fair - making for a really enjoyable contrast. This is a place I will visit again - and its easy to feel quite connected once there - with the students, with the monastic history of Coventry, with those trying to prevent Coventry burning in the firebombing, and those who later ensured the ruins lived on.

If you follow my pinterest boards, I have a board of abandoned and ruined places. This place is a ruin, but it is not abandoned. Many people were sat there, walking through the Cathedral, and the old tower converted to a tourist information centre, with an option to ascend the stairs to the top (very carefully!)

More to explore

I ran out of time, but I will be back next year, and will be looking now to spend more time seeing the historic parts - the priory, the Windmill Inn (an ancient pub) and other parts.