Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Daffodil Day – 28 March 2010

So far this spring, we have not seen many daffodils, as the cold winter has made the spring flowers very late to bloom. As there was an MG meeting in Abingdon this morning, it was a great chance to see how spring was progressing in Oxfordshire.
Abingdon is an attractive village, with several churches, a market hall, and of course its main feature is that it is built on the banks of the Thames.
Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace gardensAfter the meeting, we drove to Blenheim Palace, which is nearby. The daffodils at Blenheim are coming out, and although they are looking wonderful, another week will have them looking absolutely stunning. Everything at Blenheim is almost larger than life, so we weren't disappointed at the large areas of daffodils. Even the private Italian gardens have an edging of daffodils around the formal box hedges.

Blenheim Palace gardensBlenheim Palace - cascade in grounds

Monday, March 29, 2010

Head of the River Race – 27 March 2010

Daffodils at Fulham PalaceDaffodils in Brook Green, Hammersmith
Head of the River raceThe annual Head of the River Race on the Thames, is the largest continuous rowing event in the world. The length of the race is 6.8k, from Mortlake to Putney bridge, with the 400 boats in today's race, starting at 10 second intervals.

We started the day in Hammersmith and walked 2 miles to Fulham One of the carved trees in the Fulham Palace groundsPalace, which is by the finish line. After enjoying the wind sculptures in the garden, and a delicious lunch, we waited on Putney bridge for the first boats to appear. Number 1,had lead all the way and was first past the finish line and then under the bridge, but at that stage we had no idea which of the 400 boats would actually be the winner.
Head of the River race passing underneath Hammersmith Bridge
There was still plenty of time to walk back along the Thames, enjoying watching the eights row past us, and we then watched the last hundred boats go past from the midpoint of Hammersmith bridge.
Detail on Hammersmith BridgeAfter the race

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring is starting to spring 21 March 2010

Miniature daffodils
Today was a much nicer day than the damp day we had yesterday, and we enjoyed the MG spring Naviscat in Sussex. After an enjoyable pub lunch at the conclusion of the day, we returned home via 'High Beeches' gardens. Here the spring flowers were starting to emerge together.
early Camelias
Because winter was so severe (worst in 30 years), they were predicting a late spring, with all the flowers appearing together. This was certainly the case here. Snowdrops were still around with daffodils just starting to open, and some rhododendrons in full flower.
American Swamp Lilly
So, with this profusion of spring colour, it was very pleasant wandering around their sheltered steep sided valley in the sunshine.

We went to London to visit ... 20 March 2010

Royal MewsThe Queen opened her Gallery and Mews to the public this weekend, and we decided it was time for a visit. The Mews is still a working stables, and the tour visited the horses and coaches, which are still used for state occasions. In fact there seems to be a carriage for any occasion. We saw the coaches traditionally used to take Royal brides on their wedding day, the Queen to the state opening of parliament, to be used for the Trouping the Colour, the one used for transporting the crown jewels, and most impressive of all the 4 tonne golden State Coach. It is truly opulent, and was last used in 2002, when we with half of London lined the Mall for the Queen's Jubilee.
State Coach
Royal MewsThe Queen's Gallery is a purpose built art gallery, and this year the exhibition was of the art works of Victoria and Albert. With the help of a very informative audio guide, we found the exhibition really fascinating. We were reminded of the many tourists we have helped to record their holidays, by Detail on Australian coachtaking photos for them in front of xyz-must-visit-tourist-spot. Victoria and Albert seemed to enjoy putting a portrait (or model) of themselves, their children or pets on many works of art and pieces of furniture. Working with a relatively small annual budget of £2000, Victoria enjoyed adding to her collection, and it is now an interesting history of their tastes. Unfortunately no photos were permitted.
Rear view of State Coach

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

History of The Underground 14 March 2010

Ride-on London Underground trainToday was UK's version of Mother's Day, and we spent in in a very odd place. London Underground had an open day in their Acton Depot. Along with actual historical trains, trams and busses, there were models of vehicles, and layouts of underground stations, and model train enthusiasts were there with their layouts and models of British transport.

Routemaster busWe were taken for a ride in the now historic prototype Routemaster bus RM1, but probably the most interesting event was a tour behind the scenes into the poster archives. The Museum owns a copy of each poster from 1908 to the present. It is a marvellous reflection of the different styles of art down through the decades.Poster from the 1970s We were also shown into the room holding the collection of originals for a surprisingly small proportion of the posters produced. The early lithographic method of printing called for great artistic skill by the printer, as each poster was redrawn on up to five full size stones, one for each paint colour. We will now look with greater appreciation at posters we see in future.
Early London Underground poster
It seems that the London Underground bosses were much more careful to preserve the posters than the originals from the artists who painted them, they were hung around the offices them sold off or just disappeared home with the occupants of the office when they retired.

Collection of signsAn interesting fact and link to yesterday was that the Arsenal Station is the only one named after a football club and since the club has shifted its home ground to the new stadium is no longer the closest station to the club grounds.

Islington 13 March 2010

Geffrye MuseumOne of the truly delightful types of buildings in England are almshouses. Generally built by a wealthy benefactor for the elderly poor of the parish, almshouses are all different, yet have a distinctive look. Geffrye MuseumThis morning we visited an almshouse complex built in 1714, which is now a museum of middle class homes since the 17th century. Originally called the 'middling sort', the middle class was a new concept, of increasingly prosperous professional people. The Geffrye Museum is an interestingly different type of museum.

Crocuses in the New River gardensFrom here, we did a walk through Islington to Holloway. Islington used to a dairying area, supplying the capital with its fresh milk, but looks rather different today. Just off the High Street is Camden Passage, a fascinating area of antique shops and cafes.

Cannonbury TowerThe New River was a channel completed in 1613 to bring fresh water to the city, but in the 19th century the river was piped underground, and the next part of our walk followed the course of the 'river', now made into pleasant gardens. We left the gardens near Cannonbury Tower, owned in the 16th century by a wealthy, but mean, cloth merchant whose daughter eloped with Lord Compton after being lowered from an upper floor window in a bread basket.

Entrance to Arsenal StadiumWe finished our walk just beyond a modern-day landmark, the Emirates Stadium, home of the Arsenal Football Club.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Ely and around – 7 March 2010

Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral - octagonal towerThe whole of England was promised beautiful sunshine today, so we decided to do a circular driving tour passing through Ely, which is north of Cambridge. Dominating the town is the magnificent cathedral. Originally built on an island in the low lying swampy fens, it now appears to rise above the flat landscape of drained fields.

Octagonal Tower from the roofWe enjoyed looking around the town, now adjacent to the River Great Ouse, then arrived at the cathedral to take in the service in the stunning surroundings. Being Sunday, admission to the cathedral was free, but we paid for a tour of the octagonal tower, This was very worthwhile, and gave us a different appreciation of the building. view from the cathedral roofFrom part way up the tower, we were able to get a birds eye view of the nave below. The tour highlight was a walk on the roof around the outside of the octagonal lantern. The views were amazing, especially on such a lovely day. We could see for miles, and the guide pointed out features 15 - 20 miles away.

Close up view of the ceiling bossThe driving tour then took us through Soham, the town which featured a lot in the news a few years ago with the tragic murder of two schoolgirls. This seemed so out of character as it appeared such a quiet spot.

Then on to Swaffhams Prior past the Devil's Dyke. The ditch is an amazing medieval fortification which stretches for seven miles. The ditch is about 11m deep here, from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank.

View of two churches at Swaffhams PriorThe small village of Swaffhams Prior is equally interesting. Although quite small, it has two windmills at one end of the village and two churches within the same churchyard at the other end. Apparently the boundary for two parishes was between the two churches, and it took an act of parliament in 1667, to join the two parishes.

Coal fired pumping house, used to drain the fensOur final stop was just down the road at a favourite winter garden – Angelsey Abbey. The winter garden must have suffered from the extreme weather this winter, as it didn't look as good as we have seen it other years. But the beautiful snowdrops in their woodland walk were a wonderful reminder that spring is nearly here.

The Barbican – 6 March 2010

Barbican residential area
This 40 acre area in Central London, was virtually destroyed in World War II. A total rebuild programme started in 1965 and took 11 years to complete. At the time, the three central tower blocks of 42 stories, were the tallest residential buildings in Europe.

St Giles, left a shell at the end of WWI, now restored and a feature of the Barbican areaToday it appears a very pleasant quiet area, with public walkways and gardens, as well as private gardens, with interesting water features. Although what the area is like at night, is a question we asked ourselves; especially as the residential front doors along several walkways had multiple locks, 5 being the maximum we counted on a single door.

Wesley's conversion sculpture, on the site of his conversion, now outside the Museum of londonWe enjoyed the sunshine looking around the estate, and enjoyed lunch at a cafe beside the 'lake'. The Museum of London is adjacent to the site, and although undergoing reconstruction at present, still provides a very interesting look at London down through the centuries. Reconstructed Roman dining room, with real objects and mosacic floor found in central London in 1869

Walkway markersThe residential areas are complimented by the Barbican Centre, a complex of theatres for films and concerts. We finished the day watching the new 3D Alice in Wonderland.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Imperial War Museum – 28 February 2010

'Children's War exhibitionIt seemed a logical extension of the War Rooms, to spend a stormy Sunday in the Imperial War Museum. This museum could easily occupy a whole day, and after spending 2 hours in the excellent Holocaust exhibition, we found there was only enough time to superficially tour the rest of the museum.

The displays give information on British andTruck driven by New Zealand LRDG patrol operating in North African desert, WWII Commonwealth wars of the 20th

century. In with these are a WWI trenches exhibition and a Blitz air raid shelter.

The weekend was a sombre reminder of what has been suffered and endured by so many over the last 100 years.

Ground floor of Imperial War Museum