Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In search of autumn colours Part II - 25 October 2009

Whipsnade Tree CathedralThe Whipsnade Tree Cathedral was planted after World War I by Edmund Blyth, to commemorate two fallen comrades. The concept is brilliant, and it looks great on paper but sadly, through the ravages of disease, many of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedraloriginal trees have also become 'fallen comrades' and their replacements are too young to look as magnificent as the name suggests. gliderBut despite that, we did a walk today to enjoy the autumn colours, that took in the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral.

Starting from the National Trust centre above Dunstable Downs, we were able to watch the gliders being launched far below us. The walk circled around the Downs on the Icknield Way, until we came to the Tree Cathedral. Sunlight on the fieldsFrom there, past a very picturesque (and also very closed due to the early hour we set out) pub, on a mostly level path back to the NT Centre.

Pub halfway round the walkThe autumn colours are definitely more advanced than last week, and most spectacular on our drive back via Aldbury.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A bit of a Bore - 18th October 2009

Since being in the UK, we have wanted to see the Severn Bore, but the best ones have always been on a week day, or too early in the morning. Severn BoreToday we were in the area, and a grade 2 bore was due at 9am, 10 minutes from our hotel in Stonehouse. It was the perfect occasion to get the general idea of what the bore looks like, at a civilized time of day. We arrived in good time at 'Stonebench', one of the places recommended on the Severn Bore official website. Duntisbourne Abbots churchUnfortunately, we learnt that their website is rather out of date in recommending this spot. It used to be good when a large underwater stone bench made the water jump at this point, but although this slab (the Stonebench) was removed some time ago, they haven't changed the website! Some helpful surfies who were waiting there to catch the wave, recommended we wait at Duntisbourne LeerMaisemore bridge. The website said it would pass through there at 9.19am, so we had time to get there. But 9.19 came and went, with no sign of a wave. Fortunately a local came down to show some visitors the Bore, and told us it was running 20 minutes late. It finally came through about 9.55am and was worth the wait.. A grade 4 Bore must be most impressive.

We spent the rest of the day on two circular drives in the area. Duntisbourne Rouse fordThe highlights of these were a walk from Duntisbourne Abbots to Duntisbourne Leer. There are four villages along the Dunt stream, each village has a ford, which apart from the picturesque cottages, makes the villages especially appealing. The biggest town is Duntisbourne Abbots where started the walk, and the ford runs along the road between this village and Duntisbourne Leer for about 20m. Middle Duntisbourne fordThese days it is classed as unsuitable for vehicles, but in the days of horses and carts, it apparently cleaned the cart wheels. The route wound back to Cirencester, which we seem to have missed on any travels in the area. It is a stunning town, and a photographers delight. The stately home of Lord Bathurst, the local gentry, is surrounded by a hedge planted in 1720, and now claims to be the tallest yew hedge in Europe. Needless to say, there were no glimpses of the house.
Cirencester
The route headed to Birdlip on a dead straight former Roman road. There are many Roman roads Duntisbourne Abbots churchleading from Cirencester, as it was second only in importance to London in Roman times. The Birdlip area has stunning hillsides covered in beech trees, now turning golden. We visited two of the viewpoints in the area, with views across to Wales.

CChedworth Roman Villaonsidering the importance of Cirencester in Roman times, it's not surprising that a number of Romans ruins have been discovered. We ended the day by visiting Chedworth Roman Villa. There are some partial mosaic tile floors and outlines of various rooms, with parts still visible of their underfloor heating and sophisticated bathrooms. The villa is interesting, but far more stunning is the beautiful drive there looking across at the golden beech clad hills.

In Search of Autumn Colours – 17 October 2009

The Westonbirt Arboretum is famous for the many beautiful trees in autumn, and with a fine weekend promised, we set off in search of gold.
Malmesbury Malmesbury
On the way we called by Malmesbury, a beautiful stone town, with an Abbey half demolished on Henry VIII's orders. Behind the Abbey is one of the most stunning town gardens we have seen, Abbey House Gardens. The flower beds were just hanging onto some summer colour, but the most impressive feature was their formal gardens. These were clipped to perfection. We met Ian, the owner, to ask permission to include photos on our blog, and he said they are clipped about once a fortnight. This is a must visit garden for anyone who loves formal gardens.
Abbey House GardensAbbey House Gardens
Westonbirt had autumn trails to follow, to see the best autumn foliage. The walks were lovely, but we felt the colours will be better in another week. But the forecasters are threatening a nasty storm this week, with a slow moving low on it's way from Ireland, so there won't be as many leaves next weekend to show off their colours.
Westonbirt ArboretumWestonbirt Arboretum
A circular drive from our hotel in Stonehouse, took as through Frampton-On-Severn at dinner time. This is a wonderful village, built around an enormous green. We had a delicious dinner at the pub at the start of the green, and would definitely recommend the Bell Inn.
Westonbirt Arboretum

Monday, October 12, 2009

Baden-Baden – 10/11 October 2009

Baden-Baden streetscapeHaving flashed past Baden-Baden on our August, Black Forest, trip we felt it merited a weekend all to itself. A reasonably early start in London had us on the ground at Baden Airpark at 10 o'clock where, Spires of the Stadtkirchedue to slow processing at passport control, we just missed the bus to the city. Baden-Airpark is without doubt the worst serviced airport we have ever visited (well in excess of 100) in terms of public transport from the airport to the city; we had an hour to wait for the next bus and the one after that was further 90 minutes behind. Some consolation was that by the time we finally arrived at our Hotel in the centre, we were able to check in to our room immediately and rid ourselves of our backpacks.

Floral display in the town centreThe Am Makt Hotel is worthy of a mention as the location is superb, right in the heart of the city and very close to the spas, the room was fabulous, the service is personal and the delicious breakfast is served by the owner.

Outside the Caracalla ThermeThe weather forecast for the weekend was not auspicious but the indications were that there would be a little sunshine later in the afternoon so we set off to enjoy one of Baden-Baden's indoor attractions while the rain fell outside. Baden-Baden's claim to fame came from the geothermal springs and it has been a spa town since Roman times. Inside Caracalla ThermeThe spa baths are now major tourist attractions the first one we visited was Caracalla Therme. This has extensive indoor and outdoor pools and an upstairs sauna area where we happily whiled away 3 hours getting alternately hot and cold or resting on the various beds.

Along the Lichtentaler AlleeTrue to prediction the sun was out when we left the spa and so we explored the town centre and set off along the Lichtentaler Allee. This is a 1½ mile tree-lined lane that follows a stream up to the Lichtental Cloisters at the far end. The area was laid out as an “English” park back in the mid 1800s and is a most pleasant place to stroll, especially with the autumn colours beginning to show on the trees.

View across the Rose GardenPartway along the path there is a rose garden which, while past its best, still had plenty of blooms. It is an indication of Baden-Baden's mild climate that the roses were still blooming in October at the same time as the autumn colours.

Then it was time for dinner and we took the hotelier's recommendation and dined at Weinstube im Baldreit, Dahlia display along the Lichtentaler Alleehidden away in a courtyard that we would never had found had we not been told it was there. This is also a family run concern and turned out to be a real treat. The menu items were fairly standard German fare but the specials board offered wonderful choices and the flat-bread, pizza-like apple dessert was most unusual and very scrummy. Washed down with a wonderful local Riesling it was a most memorable meal.

Ivy on the wall of the Neues SchlossSunday started quite pleasant, so we attempted a walk from the town past the new castle to the old ruined castle on the hill above the town with the autumn colours making the walk very picturesque.

Sunday is the day for mixed bathing in the Friedrichsbad, the town's 130 year old spa. Unlike the Caracalla spa, there is a set route to follow, and we opted for the scrub and massage option. FriedrichsbadThe process begins with a hot room and then an even hotter room after which is the scrub and massage. Then there are a series of pools getting cooler and cooler until the last on, an 18C plunge pool. After that is the cream room, where two different cream lotions soothe the super clean skin, before we were wrapped in a sheet and blanket, cocoon-style for a 30 minute rest. On a winter's day, this was the ideal way to rest and recuperate.

Stiftskirche, just beside our hotelAlthough, now, completely toned and healthy, we felt compelled to give the locality one more chance after our August trip's failure to find a proper black forest gateau. This time we had asked our waitress on Saturday night for a recommendation, and so finally found the perfect Black Forest gateau at the Konig Cafe.

Despite the rain that evening we were lured to visit the casino by the guidebook's description of a pure gold roulette table, and fabulous d├ęcor. A different sort of golden splendourThe guidebook said a skirt or dress was essential for women, and a tie and any type of jacket for men. But when we attempted to pay our entry fee, we discovered that 'any jacket' did not include a black leather bomber style jacket. This was dismissed as too “sporty”, and an offer was made to rent a jacket. But the real problem was we were required to show our passports which were safely stored in our hotel room. The rain was even harder, so we lost enthusiasm rapidly at that point, and will just have to imagine the grandeur inside.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Bedfordshire Beauties - 4 October 2009

Woburn Abbey
Woburn AbbeyThe season for stately home openings is drawing to a close. We chose to visit Woburn Abbey on its last open weekend. This magnificent house is the home of the Dukes of Bedford. The tour takes in some of the ground floor, and the State Rooms which occupy all of the first floor. The State Rooms are really sumptuous, yet totally welcoming. This floor is followed by a tour of the family silver and china collections in the vaults which has all been laid out in most appealing arrangements.

Moggerhanger ParkFrom here, we drove to a very different style of house. Woburn was originally an Abbey, and the abbot was hung in an oak tree on the property in Henry VIII's time for 'treason'. Our second destination was Moggerhanger Park. This house was enlarged in the 18th century for the Governor of the Bank of England, by Sir John Sloane. Moggerhanger ParkThen again enlarged by his son, also using Sir John Sloane as architect. The tour was an architectural tour, which talked about Sloanes's style of alterations. We found it very appealing, Sloane's style was almost like the art deco look two centuries later.

Wallace and Gromit - 3 October 2009

Wallace and Gromit ExhibitionWallace and Gromit Exhibition
The London Science Museum is an amazing place for both children and adults to visit. We made the most of a grey day, to visit the museum collections and the Wallace and Gromit “World of Cracking Ideas" (Patents) Exhibition, which is due to close at the end of the month.It was fascinating to see some of the sets used in the various Wallace & Gromit films.
Science Museum: regular solidsWallace and Gromit Exhibition