"For the cathedral and the Hornblower....." Top 5 Page for this destination Ripon by leics

Ripon Travel Guide: 36 reviews and 202 photos

I broke my journey back from Northumberland with a night at Ripon........to see the cathedral (in a way, I suppose I was retracing St Cuthbert's body without intending to do so). And to see the Ripon Hornblower, a tradition which has been carried out for the past 1100 years.

Ripon itself is an ordinary English market town, with a huge market square and some nice little streets running off it. It's a bit of a nightmare to navigate, I have to admit... finding a petrol station took me ages and ages, driving round and round the encircling major roads!

But eventually I got my fuel, and found the parking for my hotel (very central), and was able to visit the cathedral before it closed for the evening.

The existing cathedral is the fourth church on the site.........there has been one there for 1300 years.

You can visit the crypt of the original 672AD church...that's pretty amazing.

The present building dates from 11-1200, with a particularly good Early English frontage from 1220. The two towers originally had wooden spires. Major rebuilding took place after the Wars of the Roses in 1485, with more in the 1500s.

But Ripon did not actually become a cathedral (where the bishop's throne is) until 1836. Until then it was a minster: a large central church which enabled priests to 'minister' to its surrounding area.

Apart from the crypt, Ripon cathedral's main attractions for me are the superb Medieval misericords (see travelogue). A misericord is a ledge provided underneath the seats of the choir talls, so that monks could rest their buttocks during the long night services. Ripon's are beautifully carved, and a wonderful insight into the minds of Medieval craftsmen.

There is a pig playing the pipes, a woman being pushed in a wheelbarrow, strange creatures galore, humans with their faces on their torsos.....and one which shows a rabbit being chased by a griffon, trying to escape down its rabbit-hole. You can see the bottom of another rabbit disappearing down the hole itself. This is thought to be where Lewis Carroll was inspired to write some of his 'Alice in Wonderland' story: his father was a canon at Ripon, and Carroll visited many times.

But what of the Hornblower?

Well, legend has it that King Alfred granted the town its charter rights in 886AD, given in the form of a horn. Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a very ancient horn kept within the Town Hall (they are now on their fourth horn).

Every night, at 9pm, the Hornblower comes to what was once the Market Cross and is now the Obelisk in Ripon Market Square. He blows the horn four times, once at each corner of the cross/obelisk, to tell the good folk of Ripon that the 'Wakeman' (the night watchman) is now protecting their town and keeping watch..so they can safely go to bed.

But as the town motto says: 'Except ye Lord keepeth ye citiie, then ye Wakeman waketh in vain' (if God does not look after the town, then the Wakeman will not do any good).

After blowing the horn four times, the Hornblower must go to the Mayor and tell him that the watch is set, before blowing his horn three times. The present Mayor (2009) does not live in Ripon itself, so the Council has decided the Hornblower may blow his horn outside the Town Hall instead.

Being the Hornblower is a real commitment. Although there is a deputy, the present Hornblower turns out on 300 nights a year.

It's really worth going to see the Hornblower.....he does his hornblowing and then talks to onlookers about the history behind it. In summer there can be as many as 100 people, but there were only 3 of us when I visited. No doubt there are many winter nights when he is all alone on the square.......but still the tradition must be kept up.

I made a video of the Hornblower.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Cathedral, Hornblower, architecture
  • Cons:Can be a bit rough round the edges
  • In a nutshell:For the Medieval cathedral and the Hornblower
  • Last visit to Ripon: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated Mar 12, 2011
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