Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Freezing fog to heatwave – 26 June 2011

We set off north after breakfast, and came out of the fog just a few miles north of Eastbourne. We had planned a circular drive, which finished up back at Eastbourne, so hoped it might have cleared by the time we returned.

First stop was Wilmington, to check out the Long Man on the hillside. He is apparently elongated when seen from above, but the artist(s) back in prehistoric times had designed him so well, he is perfectly proportioned from the town at the bottom of the hill.

Next stop was Alfriston, a really lovely small town, where the NT own the Clergy House, the first property they bought, and one of the first we visited, nearly 10 years ago.

From here we drove down to the South Coast and walked along the South Downs trail to watch in fascination as the fog rolled up and over the cliffs to evaporate in the warm sunshine above. We stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Eastbourne, to discover it was still shrouded in fog, so instead of walking the waterfront, we returned to walk along the
Cuckmere to Cuckmere Haven where it flows into the sea. The fog was not far off shore here, but on the beach in the sunshine it was getting really hot, and when we returned to our closed up car, the thermometer said 42deg in the car.

It was a pleasure to put the top down and drive inland to Charleston Farmhouse. This was the country retreat of Virginia Woolf's sister, among others. They painted the house throughout in decorative patterns – walls furniture, cupboards, fireplaces etc. This was never changed, and after Duncan Grant's death in 1978, a trust was formed in 1981 to preserve it.
Sadly, unlike Virginia Woolf's house yesterday, they do not allow photography, but the effect was a fun way of brightening up a shabby old farmhouse. The studio is still there, and it was easy to imagine the bohemian atmosphere of this 'Bloomsbury set'.

From here we wound our way home, stopping at several lovely villages – Fletchling, Diching and Ardingly. Along the way we discovered a marvellous Victorian viaduct over the Oose Valley. This is now a Grade II listed monument, and certainly a magnificent sight.

The evening was still so beautiful, we stopped for a lovely dinner at the Gardners Arms, which we stumbled over on the B2028. It was the first evening it has been almost too hot to sit outside to eat – a lovely end to a great weekend away from all the pressures of work.

Lamb and Woolf - 25 June 2011

After weeks of miserable weather, the Met Office were promising a heat wave for the weekend. This was too good to waste, so we took a couple of hours off work on Friday afternoon, and set off for Eastbourne on the South Coast.

The first thing we learnt, was traffic on the M25 is appalling on Friday afternoons, and we crawled along in a very tedious manner. Eastbourne was freezing cold when we reached it, but were reassured by the fact that the heat wasn't due to build up until Saturday. The hotel we had booked was right on the seafront, and I suspect, in common with many there, was stuck in a delightful time warp of how England used to be.

Meals were basic home cooking, just as our mothers used to do 50 years ago. The host had an endless supply of jokes, and could talk for England. But the sea view from our room was great and, in a perverse way, rather enjoyed the very different, non-slick, experience.

Saturday started grey, but the day was supposed to clear, and reach a high of 25 C, with a warm summery evening. We certainly got the improving day, but the mild evening was a myth.

Our idea was to do a walk in the morning, while the day got around to warming up. The walk started in Robertsbridge which was such a delightful town, we had to explore it before starting the walk. After completing the walk, we had a drink at the Seven Stars Inn, which is apparently the oldest hostelry in the country. It used to house the workers building the Abbey in 1194. The Abbey ruins are passed on the walk, but the Pub still survives.

From here we went to Rye. This has to be one of our favourite towns, and this time we wanted to visit Lamb House, the home of Henry James. He entertained most of the notable people of his day in literary circles.

We continued with the literary theme, and went west of Eastbourne to visit the country home of Virginia Woolf. Set at the back of a secluded village, it must have been a wonderful spot to get away from everything and write. Her bedroom and writing studio have been kept just as it was when she lived there.

After dinner, we decided to support the Armed Forces weekend, by attending the concert in their honour, at the Redoubt Fortress, on the Eastbourne seafront. The Fortress is worth visiting on it's own account, in fact, we would have to be honest and say the venue was better than the orchestra, but they performed with great enthusiasm, even tacking the 1812 Overture as their finale. A guest piper was excellent, and despite the freezing fog rolling over the Fortress walls towards the end, we still enjoyed our evening. The warm summer evening never eventuated, and we actually wondered if a heat-wave was a figment of someone's imagination at the Met Office, as we woke up Sunday morning to Eastbourne blanketed in sea fog.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Tale of Two Pubs – 18-19 June 2011

Summer has totally deserted the UK, and Saturday was a series of heavy showers, just the day to enjoy a leisurely pub lunch. We met up with the Kent contingent and enjoyed an excellent meal at the 'Little Brown Jug'. In Chiddingstone Causeway It was a great way to spend the day.

Sunday was a little better, with the showers forecast to be less heavy, so we set off for The Bell in Godstone, for the start of the SW MG Club summer outing. The route through leafy country lanes, and some new stunning villages, lead us to the Newhaven Fort.

Built in 1860 by a 22 year old engineer who, for the first time in the UK, used concrete to build the fort. Previously, the technique for fort building, was to level the land to sea level before building the fort. But he used the steep cliffs as part of his defences, and built the fort at the top of the cliff. Adding more moat-like trenches and a drawbridge on the landward side for extra security.

The fort was high enough up to see the rain pouring in the distance on the land side, but we were in a microclimate of sunshine, and struck no rain until making our way home.

Having been impressed with the Bell and it's menu in the morning, we decided to stop for an early dinner on the way home. The food was imaginative, and obviously has competition in the village, as there were more lovely old historic Inns in the village, obviously a great place to stop and eat if passing through. Godstone itself is definitely worth a visit.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Capital Ring: Richmond to Boston Manor – 11 June 2011

Today was the annual Trooping of the Colour, and after a lazy start, watching it on TV, the sun came out and we set out to walk another section of the Capital Ring.

Starting at Richmond (one of our favourite parts of London), we set off along the Thames. The first part of the walk was adjacent to the Old Deer Park crossing one of the early Meridian lines that was set up in the time of George III.

After leaving Richmond behind, we approached the small township of Isleworth. This is a very attractive sight, and to approach it the Thames Path goes straight along the veranda of the Town Wharf Pub. This made it a very appealing place to stop for a drink. Despite the wonderful view from the balcony right above the Thames, looking downstream to Islesworth, the Pub seemed fairly deserted.
This was in contrast to the London Apprentice pub just down the Thames Path, where all the riverside tables were full. This pub has an interesting history, dating from Tudor times, apprentices along with their tutor, rowed to this pub to celebrate the completion of their apprenticeship.

Syon House came next, we've previously visited this magnificent house. Leaving the Thames, after Syon we passed through built-up area crossing over to the Grand union Canal at Brentford Lock where the canal boats dropped the last few feet to match the Thames water level. This is a very appealing area of new apartments facing the canal. The walk followed the canal to Osterley Lock and onto Boston Manor Station.

Farewell to the Baltics – 5 June 2011

We felt very pleased with our Baltic experience. The weather was terrific, which is certainly not a given in this area, and in true contrariness, the wonderful heat and sunshine of our first two days in Stockholm dropped about 10 C for our final day.

We used the day to visit some more of the sights, using our Stockholm Card. First up was the city royal residence. Not on the same opulent standard of the British Palaces, but still a great place to visit. We also watched the changing of the guard, and felt the same. Maybe we are biased, but the Brits know how to do pomp and ceremony and the discipline of the movement of the soldiers on command is world's apart.

Near the Palace is the Nobel Museum, this was interesting, and we were able to look up Ernest Rutherford's entry as an award winner.

Our final museum was the History Museum, to look at the Gold Room. Years of finding Viking hoards have allowed the Swedes to accumulate a terrific haul of exciting treasure troves. It must be so exciting to stumble on such a find, we enjoyed just looking at them.

A final walk back along the waterfront; a final waterfront meal, and it was time to head home. We really enjoyed Stockholm, it really is a very attractive city with it's various islands (apparently 24,000), walking paths around the waterfronts in many places (some on the Baltic and some on the 120km long Lake Malaren) and lovely old buildings. We wondered if this was due to less destruction during the war. On a hot summers day, it would be hard to beat.

Drottningholm – 4 June 2011

Drottningholm is the residence of the Swedish Royal family, and a UNESCO site as well. The picturesque way to get there is on a boat across Lake Malaren, starting once again from the City Hall. The trip passes places of interest, such as the site of the original Electrolux factory where the only remaining part, the staff canteen, is now a Michelin Star restaurant called 'Lux'.

The Palace was built in the 17th century, and as the Swedish Royal family were not as wealthy as other royal houses, it was a clever use of fake marble to create an opulent look. This applied especially to the theatre, built in 1762, which has wooden curtains behind the boxes, wooden 'marble' fireplaces and so forth. The theatre was 'lost' for over 100 years, after Gustav III, the “Theatre King” was assassinated in 1792. Gustav was passionate about the theatre, but when he was killed, it was left totally untouched, and eventually totally forgotten about.

The third element to the area being protected by UNESCO, is the Chinese Pavilion. This is one of the best preserved buildings of it's type. It was a birthday present for Queen Louisa Ulrika in 1753. Nearby was a fascinating small Chinese styled building which was used by the royal couple to eat alone. The table was raised through a trap-door in the floor, ready set by the servants in the basement below. This process was repeated for each course, with no servants present for totally privacy.

After returning to the city by boat, we attempted to take the Katarinahissen 19th century lift up to the top of the hill in Sodermalm. It was out of order, but there is a modern lift nearby, which provides access by walkway to the old lift where there is a great city view. Nearby is the City Museum, which has a small Millennium Trilogy exhibition, and a walking map about the books of the Millennium Trilogy, and the places they were set in Stockholm. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours looking at the various places mentioned in the stories.

During this time, we also had a side trip to a booked ride on the Sky View – a pod on the Ericson Globe. This is a sporting venue built in the largest spherical building in the world, but the outside has been turned into another attraction – two mini-globes give rides to the top of the globe for a great view.

Stockholm - 3 June 2011

Unfortunately yesterday when we arrived was a public holiday which meant that the Tourist Information office was closed and the consequence was that we could not get the information we needed until 9:00 this morning. So as soon as possible, we purchased our Stockholm Cards and hit the sights.

Closest to the hotel was the berth to board the boat for the historic canal tour. Stockholm is surrounded by water and this trip was on Lake Malaren which drops a metre or so into the Baltic just near the hotel. The boat tour was a pleasant introduction and overview of the city with a bit of history and a few Swedish household names thrown in; Electrolux, ABBA, Alfa-Laval, Nobel, Bjorn Borg, Volvo, H&M, etc

Next door to the quay is the City Hall, visited via timed tour, and the tower, climbed via timed ticket, and juggling the two queues at two ticket offices on opposite sides of the building in order to dovetail the two visits was bit of a challenge but we finally got the times aligned and set off on the tour. The City Hall was built in the 1920s but looks much older, The Gold room is breath-taking as it is completely lined with murals made with mosaic tiles, primarily gold.

The views from the tower make the climb worthwhile and after soaking in the 360 degree views and stunningly clear vistas we returned to ground level and crossed back to Gamla Stan to use the hop-on-hop-off boat for our next stop. Unfortunately the free rides courtesy of the Stockholm Card finished 2 days ago so we decided to walk but after a couple of blocks in the heat we hopped on a bus to the Vasa Museum.

Swedish design has made many names famous but in the case of the Vasa it was particularly poor design that has made the name famous. The Vasa was a new warship commissioned by the King in 1625 and when it was launched in August 1628 it sailed for just 20 minutes before a small gust of wind blew it over and water flooded in through the gun-ports that were open after firing the salute at the launch and it sank in full view of the assembled populace. Fortunately less than 30 lives were lost and the ship sat in the mud for the next 333 years where the brackish Baltic water prevented the normal deterioration due to woodworm. Thus when it was finally rediscovered and retrieved from the mud it was in amazingly good condition and became the world's biggest conservation project as they reconstructed the ship from a 14,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. 30 years later 95% of the original ship was put on display in a purpose-built museum.

The irony is that the greatest maritime design disaster in Swedish history has provided the 21st century with the only example of a 17th C warship with all the intricate detail and many contents and created Stockholm's most popular tourist attraction.
This is definitely a must, on a visit to Stockholm.