Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas et al - 26 December 2005

Christmas Eve dawned crisp and clear again, Grand Union Canalthe snow is predicted for Tuesday, the day after Boxing Day. So, it was time for another walk. The roads were predicted to be horrendous so we decided on a walk nearby. We had spotted a nice loop trail along the canal and back via a path known as the “Dog Rose Ramble”. (Named after a plant that grows along the path – apparently.) Mosque and long-boatsIt is amazing how much green there is well within the M25.

Christmas Day was spent with Ngaire & Stuart and some of their friends, a most enjoyable time. Christmas dinnerOur hostesses

Boxing Day is the start of the great UK post-Christmas sale season. Since we were in the UK for Boxing Day we took the opportunity to check out the Oxford St shops and collect some bargains.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Kent - 18 December 2005

Quintain on the green at OffamSunday dawned fine and frosty again. After church we set off to Offham, a cute village with many fine oust-houses, to see their quintain or jousting pole. This is the only remaining example in the country. In medieval times the quintain on the village green was used by knights for jousting practice. The post has a revolving arm with a flat target at one end and a sandbag at the other. The knight had to strike the target with his lance and then get out of the way of the sandbag as it swung around. What was surprising was the height of the target, just under 3m off the ground. I guess that is the height of the chest of a man on horseback.

C14th bridge at AylesfordThe next stop was Aylesford. This very picturesque village has a 14th century bridge across the Medway River. The views made us feel we were in Europe in a fine medieval village. Murray on the bridgeLunch was a Sunday roast at the Chequers. Then a walk to The Friars, a beautifully preserved Carmelite Monastery which is open to the public.

Our real focus of the trip was to see Leeds Castle’s Christmas decorations by candlelight. Leeds CastleThe castle is extremely photogenic, but the layer of ice prevented the chance for perfect reflections in the castle’s moat from most viewpoints. The castle was full of lovely Christmas floral decorations. Like Waddesden, they have a splendid aviary, and several of my favorite birds – toucans. Toucan look either wayAs we left the castle we saw a swan manfully (or is that swanfully) cracking its way through the ice on the moat. Swan breaking the ice We finished the day with an excellent carol service at St Cuthbert’s on a traditional frosty December evening.

Buckinghamshire - 17 December 2005

It was another beautiful winter weekend: crisp frosts and beautiful sunny days, so we had to venture forth.

Saturday morning saw us up and about and out walking bright and early near a village called Whiteleaf CrossPrinces Risborough. The walk started at the top of Whiteleaf hill so the first stop was at the top of the cross.
Towering above the hamlet and visible up to 30 miles away is a gigantic cross cut into the chalk hillside. It is 80ft long, 72ft across and stands on a triangular base measuring 340ft across. The purpose of Whiteleaf Cross is unclear but it is worth notingWhiteleaf Cross from the top that the cut cross itself is exactly the same size as a similar figure above Bledlow and that, perhaps, these two landmarks were carved as a pair to mark the Risborough valley gap and a dry and safe trade route to the River Thames and London. Interestingly the earliest reference to Whiteleaf Cross is from 1742. On the hill alongside the cross are the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds which indicate the long history of this area.”

The next ancient landmark on the walk was Grim’s Ditch: an ancient earth work which, at the point where we encountered it, had a definite right-angle corner. Grim's Ditch
The date of this earthwork is uncertain, being either Iron Age or Saxon in origin. It is most likely a territorial boundary and can be traced across the Chilterns from Berkhamsted to Bradenham. The section of the ditch in Great Hampden parish is thought to have particular significance as it incorporates a sharp angled turn. The linear nature of the ditch implies open country at the time of origin as clear sighting lines would have been necessary during construction.”

A stile all of its own?The last ancient feature of the walk was the Black Hedge; “a boundary hedge of considerable size and antiquity. Hedges have long been used as a means of marking estate boundaries, in this instance, the estate of the Abbey of St Albans. The Black Hedge is one of the earliest boundary hedges to have been recorded in the country, being referred to in a Saxon Charter of AD 903.”

Lunch was a pleasant stop at The Wool Sack; then off to Waddesdon Manor for a look at the Waddesden Manormanor decorated for Christmas. The theme was to follow the footsteps of the Three Kings and find the belongings that they had left behind. The decorations were sumptuous, “fit for a King” and the room weWaddesden Manor Christmas lights liked best, apart from the blue dining room with its fantastic modern chandelier (made from broken china and cutlery), was the guest bathroom in the Batchelor Apartments. There were 2 large camels by a bathtub full of “Asses milk”. One of the “King’s” robes & Turkish slippers were draped over the chair.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

London - 11 December 2005

Satellite image from BBC site This morning began at 6:04 when our building shook simultaneously with an enormous bang, the effect of an explosion in a fuel depot 15 miles north NNE at Hemel Hempstead. The news tonight is saying that it is the largest explosion in post-war Europe and the pall of black smoke covers our part of London.

We went into London to see the Three Emperors exhibition at the Royal Academy. There were some quite exquisite works displayed. Burlington Arcade decked out for Christmas

Following that, we strolled down Burlington Arcade, through Piccadilly Circus (you caPiccadilly Circus signsn just make out the dark smudges of the explosion smoke in the sky) and Leicester Square to Covent Garden to a restaurant which I probably cannot name. (Save to say that when it comes to cousin Max, well that’s another story.) We had a 2 for 1 voucher and Jamie Oliver reckoned that they served the best hamburgers in London. We are not convinced, but at 2 for 1 we will let it pass. We had carefully read Old style merry-go-round in Leicester Squarethe fine print that said “available Sunday to Thursday excluding 12 to 26 December”; since this was Sunday 11 December we felt we were in with a fighting chance. Nevertheless, we did check with the lass on the door as we entered and she said it was fine. Come time to settle the bill it was a different story. Street performers in Covent GardenThe manager finally got involved and he was not willing to allow the 2 for 1 deal, as Head Office had said not during the “December season.” He seemed genuinely surprised when I pointed out the small print on the advert and grudgingly allowed the saving. Clearly, they did not get a tip!

The fun part of the meal was earlier on when the bartender was Juggling Bartenderdoing his Tom Cruise “Cocktail” thing with a couple of shakers. I tried to snap him but by the time he reappeared from behind a pillar he was merely juggling two cans.

Wandering back up Regent St we came across a closing down sale at Dickens and Jones and felt compelled to buy a couple of new suits.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Painshill Park - 10 December 2005

On our way back around the M25 we detoured to Painshill Park. What a delight. The weather, as you can see was perfect, the lake partly frozen and the autumn colours simply gorgeous. The Cedar in the park is reputedly the largest Cedar of Lebanon in Europe. Largest Cedar in Europe

We could not visit the grotto on the island as Santa and his Elves The bridge to Grotto islandwere in residence and an appointment was necessary (along with a fee). The steady stream of Mums, Dads and offspring had taken all the available appointments.

After we had returned to the carpark we looked back to see that the sun was setting and realised that there would be great shots to be had across the lake. We raced back in to the end of the lake in time to catch the dying rays.

Tonbridge - Westerham 10 December 2005

Murray needed to visit one of the The old Castle walls at Tonbridgecompany Homes in Tunbridge Wells so we set off bright and early on a beautiful crisp winter morning. The widening of the M25 past Heathrow is finally done so the trip down was a breeze. Just before Tunbridge Wells is Tonbridge (a real trap on the trains if you are not sure of your geography) and Christine wanted to have a look around there. So she did the shops and sights while Murray went on and sorted the problem at the Home. Autumn colours

Churchill on the Westerham greenAfter collecting Christine we stopped at a very cute town called Westerham where we did a village walk out of a book we have recently purchased. Churchill used to live nearby, so is memorialised on the green. General Wolfe and William Pitt are also ‘old boys’. On the walk we came across a “Narnia’ lamppost. Our Narnia lampost

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Autumn was waiting - 4 December 2005

Autumn colours Dec 05 We were afraid that we would miss the best of autumn while we were in NZ but the colours are still fantastic. So we went for another stroll in the Chiltern hills to check them out and to blow the jet lag away.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Kuala Lumpur taxi adventure - 1 December 2005

Sculpture in the park at the foot of the Petronas towersWe are back in the good old, cold, UK winter after a balmy 30C, humid day in KL. We spent the day mainly doing the shops but, in the morning, procured 2 of the 1280 free tickets that are issued daily for visits to the sky-bridge between the two Petronas Towers. It was quite an interesting side diversion and the park at the foot of the towers is very attractive. The contrast between the Suria shopping centre in the podium below the towers and the Chinatown/Little India/Central Markets area of KL could not be more marked.

When we arrived in KL we purchased return tickets and took the KLIA Express to the city. At KL Sentral station there were masses of taxis drivers waiting for business. We asked one how much to the Crown Plaza Park Royal. He told us RM18 which sounded OK, it was late and we were tired. On the way to the hotel I asked him how long the return trip would take at 7 in the morning (allowing for rush hour traffic, etc.) He said 45 mins, which seemed OK as we did not know better and the traffic at 9pm seemed horrendous. We agreed for him to be back at the hotel at 0715 Friday morning.

The park from floor 41 During our day in KL we rode the monorail and found we could get, almost, from our hotel door to the KL Sentral station for RM2.10 each, but we had made a booking and so at 0705 Friday morning we left the hotel to find our man waiting with his taxi. Traffic seemed very light but the trip from the station had seemed quite tortuous so we sat back and relaxed. After about 15 minutes I decided the scenery was quite different from the trip in and we seemed to have been travelling on a motorway for much longer than I remembered from the inbound trip.

I thought I had better check with the driver and, as I suspected he was taking us direct to KLIA.Festive decorations at Suria shopping centre This was a problem; his published rate card for the trip was RM90, we had about RM35 and we already were in possession of return KLIA Express tickets. He exited the next off-ramp and wound his way back, this time in the city-bound rush-hour traffic. He then took a "short-cut" through some scruffy residential area and ended up at a no-exit point where only motorcycles could proceed. A U-turn and back to where we got off the motorway - but of course it was an off-ramp only. More ducking and diving through the residential area and finally back on to a multi-lane road that I was sure was headed in the wrong direction. Sure enough, he had to U-turn at a set of lights, installed expressly for the purpose of allowing U-turns - the only light was a green U-turn arrow.

Here again the traffic was quite heavy and it was with great relief that, not long after, I spotted an exit sign to KL Sentral Station and we arrived at the station in time for the 0800 KLIA Express which delivered us to KLIA in plenty of time for our 0900 check-in. Whew!