Wednesday, May 26, 2010

There and back again – 23 May 2010

Clara in Ledbury
Start of the MG runSunday was even hotter than Saturday. We started off with the Y-Type run, but were unfortunately unable to finish, due to the distance we had to cover to return to London that day. As a result of setting out on our journey later, we noticed the heat effecting the car, as she was less able to tackle the hills.
Kiftsgate gardenKiftsgate garden
We needed more frequent stops, the most pleasant being the gardens of Kiftsgate and Hidcote Manor, which are opposite each other in the middle of the Cotswolds. We have visited these gardens at various seasons, and they are always lovely.
Hidcote Manor garden Kiftsgate garden
IslipThe third stop on the return journey was in the town of Islip. This is a lovely small Cotswold stone town, by a historically important river crossing. The information board about the town was interesting, as it mentioned its importance as a stopover in the 17th and 18th centuries for the two day journey to Worcester. As that was where we left the rest of the car club to return to London, it did make us appreciate how easily we can travel today, even in a less than modern car.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spring Run – 22 May 2010

The weekend did not feel at all like spring. Last weekend was decidedly cool, and in the space of a week, England was hotter than countries bordering the Mediterranean. The MG Y Type Register was holding the annual Spring Run in Ledbury. Ledbury is 120 miles from London, a reasonable distance to go for a modern car on a weekend away, but for our 59 year old Y Type with extra hot weather, it was more of a challenge. But we were delighted that our only breakdown was able to be resolved by phone, with the aid of our friendly garage and a bit of “Kiwi ingenuity”.

Taking an old car away requires some careful planning of routes along suitable back roads, and this actually makes the journey different and most enjoyable. The first stop was Thame, then through a series of new and attractive towns to lunch stop in Stow-on-the-Wold (after the break-down). We were able to then complete the journey without the need for further stops.

Ledbury is a lovely market town, full of interesting old buildings. It also has lots of lovely shops selling different things from the big stores in London.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kempton Great Engines - 16 May 2010

It seems as though it would be impossible to run out of new places to visit in London. This weekend we made two new discoveries, of an annual event on Saturday, and a pumping station, nearly 100 years old, on Sunday when we discovered the Kempton Great Engines. Built in the art deco era, this handsome building, totally lined with glazed bricks inside, has had one of the great steam engines Gravity oil-drip systemrestored to working condition, and Sunday was of the 14 steaming days in the year. The two great engines were built to pump drinking water to London, and the guided tour, was a fascinating look at the technology developed to cope with this task. Each engine is 62ft, or 4 storeys, tall and not only are the engines on a large scale, some of the spanners used in their construction and maintenance take three men to lift them.
Art deco interior
The engines were designed and built in the north, tested and then disassembled into numbered parts each of which weighed a maximum of 16 tons and could fit into a standard railway wagon of the time. The work and expertise that went into the engines is quite remarkable considering that, possibly, only 4 were made. They served over 50 years until the 1980s and were more efficient than the turbine driven centrifugal pumps that were installed to replace them.

Ultimately progress passed them by and instead of 140 men the site now employes 14 men, electric pumps and electronic controls, all incredibly boring compared to the grandeur of these great behemoths of the steam age.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Rickmansworth Canal Festival – 15 May 2010

Only £1.30 took us by tube to Rickmansworth, and a whole different world, at their annual canal festival. Over a hundred narrow boats moored up to four deep, lined the tow-path and had obviously put a lot more effort into getting there than we had.

The canal-boat community had turned on an old-fashioned village fair, with food, stalls selling crafts, music a narrow boat tug-of-war and even Morris dancers.

It was a very pleasant laid-back type of day out, with many narrow boats to admire, and even briefly toy with the idea of buying one!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

London to Brighton – 9 May 2010

Brighton Pier

Sheltering from the rain at the startThe 27th annual MG Regency Run from Brooklands to Brighton was scheduled for today. We thought, if the real old-timers can do their annual London to Brighton run, then surely our 1950 Y Type, can make it too. It's only 70 miles, which doesn't sound much, but considering she couldn't make it 2 miles from home a fortnight ago, this was a challenge. But we were delighted when she made it to Brighton and back, unaided, eleven hours after we left home.
Brighton waterfront collection of MGsBrighton waterfront collection of MGs
We were followed by the oldest MG in the worldThere was light drizzle at Brooklands, but considering the weather forecast had promised a grey day, it wasn't too bad, as that was the only rain we saw all day.

The MG organisers provide directions for a route away from motorways, and we enjoyed lovely country lanes, with many bluebell woods, and lovely village cottages covered in wisteria.

Brighton waterfront collection of MGsA large area on the Brighton beachfront near the Pier, was reserved for the 309 MG cars who participated in the day out. The cars ranged in age from the oldest surviving MG (1925) through to the latest 2010 models.

White Down bluebellsA rest stop was necessary for our 60 year old, so we took advantage of a beautiful bluebell wood we learnt about while chatting to other MG owners at Brooklands. The area is called White Down, and after struggling up a very steep hill, Clara was more than ready for a rest, while we enjoyed the largest bluebell woods we have walked through.

British Library & British Museum – 8 May 2010

Page  turning virtual book at British LibraryTemperatures plummeted in the UK this week, so it seemed like a good day to check out the new Magnificent Maps exhibition at the British Library. This free exhibition is well worth visiting.

Patchwork mapThe maps on display came from many different countries, and included the World's largest Atlas, presented to Charles II in 1660. It has 41 maps, many unique and the others very rare.

King's Library TowerWe were fascinated to read the notes accompanying the display on how maps were used in the past, that “Rulers received their guests in their audience chamber, where maps conveyed their power and dominance.” As we have a tapestry map in our living room (purchased on holiday in Florence and supposedly a copy of Christopher Columbus's map of the world), we decided that this put us up with the 'ruler' mentality.

Standard of UK 2500BCThe Library also has a permanent exhibition which features among other interesting items, the original hand written lyrics for some of the Beatles' famous hits and two of the four extant copies of the Magna Carta.
A must visit - Lewis chess piecesA real treat when visiting the Library, is to have lunch right beside King George III's library collection. This was donated to the British Museum by his son George IV, and since relocated to a specially designed four story tower, appropriately called the King's Library Tower.
'Swimming' duck on Celtic flagon 450BCGolden chariot model from 300-500BC
Internal courtyard at British MuseumThe British Museum is only a short walk away, and we enjoyed our first visit in years, to have a dip into the various galleries by way of their new 'History of the World in 100 Objects' programme. This is in conjunction with the BBC, and so far only the first 30 objects are identified, with a map to find them. It was a great way to follow a theme and cover most of the Museum in the process.

Friday, May 07, 2010

From Liverpool to the potteries – 3 May 2010

Docklands Museum, LiverpoolAfter another look around the docklands, and a visit to the Docklands Museum, we did not take the “Ferry 'cross the Mersey” we took, instead, the tunnel under the Mersey River to have a look at Port Sunlight, a model village built by Mr Lever manufacturer of Sunlight soap products, for his workforce. This village is definitely worth a detour; beautiful homes built in a village filled with flowers and manicured lawns. I imagine there must have been a waiting list to get a job in the factory, to have the right to live in one of these lovely houses.
Port SunlightPort Sunlight
SndbachFrom here we took a route straight across Cheshire, through the towns involved in salt production since Roman times. The town we liked best was Sandbach, with two carved pedestals over 1,000 years old. Previously, they would have supported stone crosses.

Moorcroft PotteriesOur final stop of the day, was for a tour booked at the Moorcroft Potteries. Their tours do not run on weekends, but happily for us, they did run on Bank Holiday Monday. We found the process very interesting, and now understand why their products are expensive.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Manchester & Liverpool – 2 May 2010

Central Manchester
Bridge leading to Lowry CentreAfter spending the night in a suburb of North Manchester, we were perfectly placed to start the day with a look around the city. The outskirts of Manchester looked very depressed, with closed shops and boarded up buildings everywhere. The city centre seemed to have survived the recession, and we enjoyed walking around the buildings reflecting the grander styles of past eras, and modern look of glass and copper at The Lowry re-development of the docklands area.

Albert Dock, LiverpoolThe highlight of Manchester was a visit to the John Ryland Library. The wife of this Victorian industrialist built the library, which opened in 1900, to commemorate his life. She chose a Gothic style to compete with the great libraries at Cambridge and Oxford, and the building is stunning. There is a large Reading Room, and smaller rooms filled with interesting exhibitions.
Albert Dock, LiverpoolAlbert Dock, Liverpool
From Manchester we travelled the short distance south back to Liverpool. Once again, the outer areas looked very sad, with many closed premises, and the city centre itself is a mixture of grand, but tired buildings and livelier but equally shabby areas. A good proportion of the city centre is now a UNESCO heritage site, and we were frankly not sure why. But the heritage area of the Albert Docks, is also UNESCO, and this is a total delight to spend time in. The old dock buildings have been given a new lease of life as shops, restaurants, cafes and museums.
Metropolitan CathedralMetropolitan Cathedral
A 30 minute walk uphill, leads to the Metropolitan Cathedral. This Catholic church, opened in 1967, is dramatic in design both inside and out. The lantern is the largest lead light window in the world and combined with the blue leadlight windows around the circular building, fills the whole auditorium with a blue glow.

Liverpool Harbour BoardA short walk along Hope Street took us to the Philharmonic Dining Room. This equally dramatic building, originally for pre or post-show gatherings, is definitely worth a visit. The look downstairs is of an opulent Gentlemen's club, complete with the only Grade 1 listed Gents in the UK, which ladies are able to inspect if the coast is clear.

Chinese Ceremonial Arch - largest outside mainland China when buily in 2000When we visited, although reasonably early in the evening, the place was already bustling with people clutching their glasses while standing in the only places available – the corridors. Upstairs is much more peaceful (and also less grand, as it was the room the carriage drivers used to wait in) and we were one of only two tables enjoying a very nice and quiet meal.