Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas in London - 15 & 16 December 2007

The NZ Memorial

The Crack at the TateSomeone has just completed some research and declared, on the basis of various measurable qualities, that London is the best capital city in the world. We feel, on the basis of a few years of experiencing it both ways, that Christmas is more suited to the middle of winter than the middle of summer and part of this impression is undoubtedly due to the fact that Christmas in London is very special.

Covent Garden baublesThe City Fathers and the retailers put a major effort into making London an attractive Christmas destination, as there are all manner of things to see and do, many free.

So this weekend we decided to check out some of the city activities starting with the traditional City Guilds Boat Race, part of the Bankside Frost Fayre. AngelsAs we were then so close to the Tate Modern, we thought we would pop in and check out the large crack in the floor, the most recent “installation”. Although I would not put us in the class of ardent modern art appreciators, this ‘work’ is quite impressive in its delivery although I must admit that the engineer in me was more concerned with the technicalities of how it was done rather than any social comment it may have been making but, as they say, art can be appreciated on many levels.

Carnaby StreetCrossing the river we wandered up though Covent Garden where we found some aerial ‘angels’ and then to Carnaby Street, which is sporting some rather dashing ‘paper chains’ strung across it.

Ferris WheelHyde Park is host to a Winter Wonderland with a rather magnificent transportable Ferris wheel as well as the largest of the dozen or so ice rinks that have sprung up in London this winter.

Santa on his reindeer
While on our way to visit the new New Zealand Memorial by the Wellington Arch we were passed by a massed motorcycle ride of Santas. We have no idea what it was in aid of but they were certainly getting into the spirit of Christmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

As high as a Kite - 25 November 2007

The area where today’s walk was based is a success story in terms of the restoration of the Red Kite population and it is not really a matter of whether or not you may spot one, but how many you can see at any one moment.

Japanese Larch coneJapanese Larch at Twigside Bottom

As we crested the ridge by Cobstone Mill there were three or four Kites cavorting in the valley below us: they really are quite magnificent flyers, having a wingspan of almost two metres.

Red Kite over IbstoneOther wildlife spotted were the deer. For the first time we saw two deer crossing the road as we drove in, while on the walk we spotted at least another six. Unfortunately their sense of our presence is so much keener than our sense of their presence that we do not have any photos to prove they were there. However, we did manage to get a snap of a Kite soaring over the school at Ibstone as we finished the walk.

Turville ChurchBelow Cobstone Mill is the attractive village of Turville where the TV series The Vicar of Dibly is set. It is also frequently used as a set in Midsummer Murders.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stile styles - 17 November 2007

In the six years that we have been doing country walking in the UK we have used hundreds of stiles: ladder stiles, squeezer stiles, standard wooden stiles, stone stiles, in fact we thought we had seen every stile style there was. And there in the woods ...However, today we came across our very first clapper stile. It appeared to be a standard 4-bar gate and it was not at all obvious how one negotiated it. The bars are counterweighted with blocks of wood and pivot at one side of the stile. As you put weight on the bars they simply press one another down until it is easy to step over. As you release the bars the counter-weight blocks of wood make a clapping sound as they return to their rest position.

Kenet and Avon CanalOvernight fisherman

Our circular walk from Hungerford, started along the Kennet & Avon canal. We passed two fishermen in tents, who told us they had spent the night braving sleet and snow. The temperature wasn't that great when we passed them: after the beautiful weather all week, it was disappointing.

Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade'Euonymus europaeus 'Red Cascade'

After the walk we drove through Savernack Forest. This was the central reason for the weekend away in this part of Wiltshire. Savernack ForestWe last visited in January and discovered the 4-mile beech avenue, originally laid out in the 1790’s, which is the longest avenue in Britain. We wanted to see it again in the autumn. Although the autumn leaves have had a bit of a battering, the avenue still looked lovely.

From there we travelled south to Pewsey another pretty little town then back up to one of our favourites in the area; Marlborough.

Sunday was a total washout - so we went home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

If you go down to the woods today ... - 11 November 2007

Grayswood Church

We must have been focusing on the colours, rather than the track and instructions, as we got ourselves hopelessly lost about a mile into today’s 7-mile walk. Further on the instructions talked about the summit of Gibbet Hill so we figured we if we kept taking tracks that went uphill we would arrive at the summit. We did, but could find nothing that indicated we were there or anything that suggested this spot may have once had a gallows. Some passing cyclists told us we were not quite in the right spot, the summit of Gibbet Hill is slightly lower Gibbet Hillthan the part of the ridge we had climbed to. A little further on we found Gibbet Hill and the concrete pad that marks the spot where the gallows were.

From there we worked backwards and found the trail we should have been on. Once we had aligned ourselves with the instructions we set off downhill and in less than 10 minutes were hopelessly lost again. - Must be time to hang up our boots!

Winkworth ArboretumPerhaps we had not actually found the track again, who knows? Fortunately the GPS was happily bread-crumbing our trail allowing us to see the direction we were meant to be heading to return to the start point so we abandoned the instructions and headed for the car. By this stage the trail on the GPS looked as if it had been made by a drunken three-legged ant.

Winkworth ArboretumOut in the middle of the woods, we came across a house and the lady there confirmed that we were headed in the correct direction to return to the village where the car was parked. By the time we were back at the car we had walked 4 miles and seen very little of our planned route. Next time, maybe?

Sussex scenesThere was little chance of getting lost at our next stop, Winkworth Arboretum, as the paths were well marked with numbered posts that corresponded to numbers on the leaflet we were handed as we entered.

Saturday in Sussex - 10 November 2007

Sheffield Park

NymansThe autumn colours should still have been looking great this weekend, but unfortunately a big storm swept through the UK on Thursday, and a lot of leaves must have ended up on the ground. Despite this, we still went ahead with plans to revisit several National Trust properties, in Sussex, which are known for their autumn colours.

NymansFirst stop was at Sheffield Park Gardens. There was still plenty of colour, which always looks good reflected in a lake, a number of which features in Sheffield Park.

Wakehurst PlaceOur second visit was Nymans, which has gardens surrounding the ruins of the house. Finally we spent the rest of the day, walking around Wakehurst Place. These extensive grounds are looked after by Kew gardens, and include water gardens, and many trees. Wakehurst PlaceThese were also looking colourful. Adjacent to the grounds is the Loder Valley Reserve. They only admit 50 people per day to walk around this reserve, and we were fortunate to be able to add this to our afternoon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Dickens of a time - 28 October 2007

Dickens World
Today we visited a different sort of ‘copy’, which is actually very successful. Dickens World, at Chatham, is a ‘theme park’ based on the life and works of the most famous local – Charles Dickens who lived at nearby Rochester. We thought they had produced a very attractive Victorian town, with cobbled streets and quaint buildings. Attractions include a 3D history of Dickens life, Haunted House of characters from his books; theatre presentation; school room quiz; and a ‘log-flume’ ride through a sewer (complete with smells), roof-tops, back-yards, and a cemetery.

We thoroughly enjoyed our morning there. It was a totally miserable day outside, but the whole attraction is undercover, making it a perfect winter attraction.

Peninsular perambulations - 27 October 2007

Maldon harbour

We set out to explore the Essex peninsular between the Crouch & Blackwater estuaries. We had passed through Maldon previously, and returned to see it with the tide in. Maldon is lovely, and the waterfront park seems especially geared towards children, with inviting play areas.

St Peters-on-the-WallAt the very tip of the peninsular is one of the earliest churches in England, near the very attractive town of Bradwell-On-Sea. St Peters-on-the-Wall, a Saxon church, built in 654 on the site of a 3rd century Roman wall.

Mangapps sign collectionWe started a circular walk from Southminster. The walk passed near Mangapps Farm Railway Museum. We decided to break the walk there, and had a look at their extensive collection of railway relics.

Our route then passed through Burnham-On-Couch, a very attractive town, whose busy harbour has been in use for centuries. Burnham-On-CouchThe final stop was South Woodham Ferriers. This is a 20th century town, built with a square surrounded by traditionally styled buildings. Although it must have looked good on paper, the reality just doesn’t quite come together. There is a real difference between the real & the attempted copy. Despite this, we enjoyed an excellent Persian meal at one of the many restaurants in the town centre.

Mangapps Railyard

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reflections - 21 October 2007

Early morning on the River NeneAnother fine and frosty day was perfect for a morning walk around a country park, the River Nene and some water-sport lakes within the Peterborough area.

Wansford BridgeA recent TV production recommended visiting Wansford & Yarwell. Both towns are built of lovely stone, miniature versions of the nearby stunning town of Stamford. Wansford was the prettier of the two; in particular it's 10 span medieval bridge.

Why the long faces boys?Our final stop of the day was Burghley House, home to the famous Burghley Horse Water Garden at Burghley HouseTrials. This stunning house was built by Lord Cecil in Tudor times. They have recently added a lovely water garden, based on the trick water garden built by Lord Cecil. On such a glorious day the gardens looked wonderful.

Burghley House

Angels and the Trinity - 20 October 2007

The Bell at StiltonAs we drove north from London on a beautiful frosty autumn day, we passed through areas with heavy fog patches. Our first destination was Stilton of Stilton cheese fame, and we hoped that it wasn't in one of the foggy spots. Fortunately there was bright sunshine at Stilton (although only a matter of a mile away we had passed through dense fog). We enjoyed a walk through the crisp sunshine, finishing again at Stilton. We couldn't leave town without sampling some Stilton made & purchased in Stilton. Browns of Stilton have a very tempting shop, full of a variety of goodies.

Angels in the roofFrom here we drove to Ramsey, a prosperous town in the middle ages, and still has the remnants of an Abbey. From here we drove the short distance to March. The special feature of March was the amazing double hammer-beam roof of the Church of St Wendreda. Over 400 years old, the 120 carved angels are stunning. We talked to a local lady who told us many interesting stories of the church and the angels, including her ingenious fundraising system when the roof needed extensive repairs in 2002.

Ramsey reflectionsWisbeck was once an important port, and although miles from the sea today, ships from Europe still access it via the River Nene. The town has very pleasant Georgian houses lining the riverbank, including Peckover House, a home once owed by a philanthropic Quaker family but now in the care of the National Trust. We enjoyed looking round the house & garden, and in particular their apple themed restaurant's apple, quince & squash soup.

The whole area around here is called Fenland. Prior to the 16th century, many of the towns we visited today were islands in the low lying marshes. Croyland AbbeyIn the 16th & 17th centuries, the fens were drained by digging long channels and re-routing rivers. As we drove towards Crowland, our GPS indicated we were only 3 ft above sea level. At the time we were about 3 feet above the surrounding fields, so they were in effect the old sea level. At Crowland we completed our look at Croyland Abbey, which we started in April. Today the Abbey looked stunning in the sunlight, and we were able to have a look inside the church, once a christening was over. We had a look at Thornley, another abbey town nearby, before calling it a day in time to watch the final of the Rugby World Cup.

Trinity Bridge, CrowlandAlso at Crowland is the rather unusual C14th three-cornered Trinity Bridge, now a curiousity with no water in sight. Originally built where the Welland river divided it cleverly allowed the townsfolk multi-way access across the river.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Centuries past - 13 & 14 October 2007

Autumn returns

The leaves are beginning to turn, in what they promise will a fantastic autumn, so it was time to get out of London for a walk or two.

North MimmsSt Mary's North Mimms

JordansSaturday’s walk was from one of our favourite little villages close to London, Chalfont St Giles. The walk went from Milton’s house to Jordans, a planned Quaker settlement that never quite worked out the way that was hoped. Nevertheless it is a cute, quiet, rural village that looked a world away from the crime and violence of the big English cities.

St Mary's North MimmsJust outside the village is the Mayflower Barn, so named as it is supposedly built using timbers from the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship.

On Saturday night we thoroughly enjoyed a different sort of autumn when we attended The Four Seasons by Candlelight. Held at the Albert Hall, the Mozart Festival Orchestra, all dressed in period 18thC costumes and wigs, performed Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart, Albinoni and Hayden with stand-out solo performances by soprano Nicola Stonehouse; trumpeter Crispian Steel-Perkins; and violinist Daniel Rowland.
Heart wood
Mayflower Barn
As we had splashed out on seats just three rows from the front, the view was fantastic and it really appeared that the performers were enjoying themselves as much as we were.

Mozart Festival Orchestra
Beresford TombIt was not at all hard to imagine that you were back in the 1700’s listening to the premiere performance of these pieces.

On Sunday we headed northeast from London to a rather pleasant dormitory suburb with some very nice and, clearly, very expensive houses. From Brookmans Park we walked west to North Mimms to have a look at a C14th church with its Beresford Tomb. This has a very unusual alabaster tomb cover with the picture Folly Towerof a lady outlined in bitumen: it dates from 1584.

Walking east we eventually came to the Folly Tower built in 1754 as the entrance gate to a Pleasure Ground and then turned westward back to our starting point.

Grass SnakeAlso out enjoying the unseasonably warm autumn day was a grass snake, the first snake we have seen since 2002 when we came across 3 in a matter of months.