Sands of Time

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A fascinating challenge this week ~ to share a photograph that signifies transitions and change, to explore the ways in which a single photograph can express time, while only showing us a small portion of any given moment.

I spotted this man building a sand sculpture at Gloucester Docks recently.  It was to celebrate the Tall Ships festival, which was taking place over the weekend.  He worked, oblivious to all around him, with patience and skill.  It was wonderful to see his pile of sand change into a beautiful work of art.  I was mesmerised.

I have written about Gloucester Docks before as it is one of my favourite places locally.  The whole area signifies transitions and change to me.  The wonderful old warehouses, which were once the thriving heart of business in the area are now recycled as accommodation for students, restaurants, museums, or offices.

The old Mariner’s Church in the background of my photo tells its own story  of how the area has changed over time.

In Victorian times a visitor to Gloucester would have found the docks teeming with sailors from all over the world as well as British emigrants preparing to set off for a new life in North America.

Spanish seamen brought onions to Gloucester and sold them in the streets to local housewives. A local newspaper account in 1860 describes the many nationalities that could be seen and heard at the Docks:

‘Here we see a Frenchman from the rich vine districts of Brittany, an Italian from the fertile plantations around Palermo or a swarthy Negro escaped from the Slave States of America. These, with a few Americans and a sprinkling of Norwegians, Danes, Dutchmen and Germans, compose the motley crews of the arrivals in our port’.

In those days, seamen and bargees were distinctively dressed and there was a social barrier between them and other citizens, especially on Sundays when citizens would wear their Sunday best to go to church.   It was decided by a local wealthy businessman that the mariners needed a chapel in which they could be welcomed regardless of language or dress.   And so it was that the simple Mariners Chapel was built in 1848, primarily for the workers at Gloucester Docks and crews of vessels moored there.

The first chaplain, Rev James Hollins, must have been an inspirational man.  He organised services in foreign languages when necessary, and used a portable organ for services on the quayside. There was a Sunday school for boatmen’s children. Religious tracts were given out in many languages, including Welsh, Hindustani and even Chinese. In its first five years, 2,000 copies of the Bible and over 14,000 leaflets in 12 different languages were distributed.

The local watermen and families were often uneducated and living very basic lives. Drunkenness and bad language were common social problems among them. In 1884, an old cheese warehouse with two flats was purchased nearby, for use as a meeting hall. Mariners church started up a coffee bar there, and gave reading and writing lessons. The hall also provided a place simply to relax.

Today this is where I take my granddaughter to a ‘mini-mariners’ playgroup.  it is also where the Galley serves hot lunches every Friday to the local homeless community, or anyone needing help for whatever reason.

Mariners is a proprietary church, independent of the local diocese.  It was set up specifically to meet the spiritual needs of the docks’ community.   There was no dress code and no language or social barrier.  Just a christian desire to help and support the community.  Today this work continues.

Enjoy some of my photos from the tall ships weekend.

 

I had quite a nautical June as I also went to Bristol Quays on a day trip.  The SS Great Britain is fully restored sitting proudly by pleasure boats, ferries and old warehouses now turned into luxury flats.

 

. “A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea”, written by Allan Cunningham, is one of the best British sea-songs, although written by a landsman.

A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea

A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.

“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.

There’s tempest in yon horn’d moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.

 

 

Happy with History and Heritage

In previous blogposts I’ve described my love of water and written about days at the seaside, by rivers, or admiring springs and waterfalls  and lakes that are special to me.  I could be happy near any of them.  Beside water I can relax and be at peace.  I am often inspired to write by the sheer beauty and elemental power of water.  But today I would like to bring canals and docks into the mix.

Being born near the great River Tyne, I have been fascinated from the earliest age by ships, bridges, and the industrial buildings that line the banks around docks, ports and quaysides.  Of course many have now been lost to us through disrepair.  Others have been restored as wonderful museums, like the Gloucester Waterways Museum, or art galleries like the Baltic Mill in Gateshead.  Many have been converted into luxury homes and offices like Butler’s Wharf on the River Thames in London.  But some have just aged gracefully, and stand majestically observing the changing world around them.

One such building, close to where I live, is the old ‘Llanthony Provender Mill’ or ‘Foster Brothers’ Oil and Cake Mill’ on Baker’s Quay.  It faces the Gloucester and Sharpness canal, which is served by Gloucester Docks.

Opening in 1862, the 6 storey warehouse played an important role in the industrial development at the docks in the late 19th century.  In fact it is listed by English Heritage because of its important place in Gloucester’s history.  Originally, the mill crushed linseed and cottonseed, extracting the oil from the seeds and then forming the remainder into seed cakes for cattle feed.  According to the civic society, the business remained in the hands of the Foster family for 4 generations, until 1945, when it was sold to West Midland Farmers as a storage and distribution depot.  In the last two decades much of the area has been bought up by developers and some areas have been dramatically changed by the building of the shopping centre and the College on opposite sides of the canal.  However, so much is unchanged, that the area has become a magnet for film makers who use Baker’s Quay as a film set.

Last year Tim Burton’s film, ‘Through the Looking Glass’, was filmed there.  It starred Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham-Carter.  It was an amazing sight with Tall Ships in the misty docks ~ very atmospheric.  Sadly I was not invited to be an extra on this occasion, disappointing as they filmed on my birthday!

The warehouses at the docks are all built of red brick several storeys high.  Inside there are wooden beams and cast iron pillars.  Outside they look very impressive with lots of small windows covered with metal bars.  Many of the warehouses still have faint painted signs showing their original dates, names and uses.  They were mainly for storing grain or salt and had wooden loading bays facing the quay.  Some have very impressive covered areas supported by pillars jutting out to the canal or quayside.

The docks area, the bridges, and the warehouses are utterly fascinating to me.  I have delighted in taking my grandchildren over there by car, bus or train over the years, then going on boat trips down the canal to Sharpness.  Thankfully I have taken lots of photos too as last weekend (3rd October) there was a dreadful fire which partially destroyed this wonderful historic building.   The local people are devastated by the loss of this much loved building, and local photographers and artists have been sharing their thoughts and feelings.

One local artist, Claudia Araceli was drawn to go over to the docks and paint that very building on the day that it was destroyed.  She was there until early evening completing a beautiful painting before leaving at 6.45pm.  The fire caught hold at 9pm and took fire crews all night to extinguish.

The photos at the top of this post show before and after the fire.  One was taken a couple of years ago when I took my grandchildren on a boat trip along the canal.  The other was taken this week after the fire.  Here is Claudia’s stupendous and serendipitous  painting IMG_8623

The gallery below is a general view of the Gloucester Docks area and some of the boats and buildings there.

Rhyme first published in 1844

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,

In a shower of rain;

He stepped in a puddle,

Right up to his middle,

And never went there again.

Sea Fever and Moon Madness

There was not a cloud in the sky on Sunday evening.  As I stood gazing upward the only sound I heard was the plaintive hooting of an owl in the woods opposite my house.  It seemed to me that every star was visible in the blackness, and I was mesmerised as the shadow of the earth started to creep over the moon, gradually changing its shape.  I watched and waited and tried to take photographs but soon abandoned that and just enjoyed the spectacle.  This was the perfect end to a wonderful, and surprising, spontaneous day out.

I often get the urge to be near a river, a lake, a waterfall, or the sea.  Any body of water will do.  I assume this attraction is because I grew up by the River Tyne.  I have the North Sea in my blood.  Although I love the rolling hills, golden fields and honeyed stonework in the ancient villages of the Cotswolds, which is now my home, I do miss the coast.

One of my favourite poems remembered from schooldays is Sea Fever by John Masefield (1878–1967) and it sums up my feelings perfectly:

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

This particular Sunday the pull of the sea was stronger than usual so my husband and I set off for our nearest quiet coastline, which is at Burnham on Sea.

 I love this little town so much; the wide sandy beaches, the working boatyard, the Victorian parks, the holiday camps,  the seaside cafes and ice-cream sellers, the long flat promenade, the shortest pier in the country ~ and the Rivers Brue and Parrett that meet the Severn in the estuary that stretches between England and Wales.  When we arrived it was lunchtime and the tide was out, so the beaches were almost deserted.  But there was plenty to do.  Apart from the usual things to see, there were assorted cowboys and cowgirls to be seen.  Luckily for us it was Country and Western weekend in nearby Brean and you simply can not imagine how seriously the fans take this event unless you have seen it.

It is literally like walking through a goldrush town in the wild west of the 1850s.  The men all look like cowboys, prospectors or sheriffs, wearing the regulation jeans, boots, fringed jackets and hats while toting holsters and pistols.  The women are something else!  Many were wearing very beautiful long dresses of the sort well to do wives of the wealthier businessmen or successful prospectors would wear I guess.  They carried parasols and wore shawls.  It was amazing ~ like walking into a Disney set, or being transported back to a totally different place and time.

The afternoon raced by, helped by fish and chips on the shortest pier in the country and a whippy ice cream by the slipway.  The town started to get really busy and there was an air of expectation.  I noticed that there were lots of jet skis down on the beach and a convoy of boats on trailers pulled by tractors heading for the boatyard.  The coastguard was around and there was a lifeboat ready prepared for action.  I was walking my little dog on the sea wall when I noticed the tide was coming in rather quickly.

The River Severn has the second highest tidal range in the world and I am used to seeing very high tides in Spring.  But little did I know that this weekend was expected to be even higher due to a rare set of astronomical events happening together.  Everyone knows that the tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon.  And this weekend there was an extremely rare ‘super blood moon’ eclipse.   The tide on the Severn was expected to be about 12 metres and it was coming in fast.

So after taking a few more photos, we reluctantly headed for home determining to set an alarm for 2.30 in the morning to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  I noticed on the way home that the tidal River Avon, which meets the Severn at Avonmouth, was almost up to the top of the banks under the Clifton suspension bridge.  I have never seen it so high.  And the moon seemed much larger than usual.  It looked golden and reddish at sunset, like a huge 3D ball suspended in the sky.

It reminded me of the paintings my pupils used to do to illustrate the C S Lewis story of The Magician’s Nephew.  They used to put a plastic circle on their art paper and paint a colour wash all over the page.  When the circle was removed it left a beautiful full moon that stood out from the background in 3D.  Simple but effective!

My photos aren’t brilliant as I took them with my phone but they do show the changes that occurred during the day due to the tide.

Empuriabrava on the grid

Well September, always my favourite month, has been particularly exciting this year.  I was lucky enough to take a trip to Empuriabrava in Spain with some of my family, to celebrate my daughter’s 40th birthday.  My photos come from there.   Thanks to WPC, I became obsessed with grids and spotted them everywhere in the old town!

Empuriabrava is a wonderful place, especially in Autumn, when the vast majority of foreign tourists have gone home.  It is built around national parks ~ lush and green thanks to the fresh water springs, and there are magnificent views of the Pyrenees in the distance.  The beautiful beaches are deserted except for fearless young windsurfers.  The parks are left to local children and older folk who make good use of the play and exercise equipment freely provided.  The seemingly endless footpaths are given over to dog walkers, runners and cyclists.   While walking along the footpath, I was surprised and delighted by a herd of extremely well-behaved goats following a farmer.  They stopped occasionally to feed or explore the hedgerow, but were easily coaxed onward by the goat at the rear with a bell round his neck.  They seemed happy and even managed what looked like a smile for the camera.   The wide river Muga flows along one side of the footpath on its journey from the Alberes mountains of the eastern Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea at the beautifully named Gulf of Roses.  The bamboo, rushes and trees beside it were filled with birds and butterflies while the steps leading up to the path were dotted  with sunbathing lizards.   Nearer the town, the fig trees were filled with the sound of squabbling parakeets.  There seemed to be masses of these bright green birds with grey breasts nesting in every palm tree, which delighted my little grandson.   They are feral monk parakeets apparently and they are quite common.

The new part of Empuriabrava is often referred to as the Venice of Spain.  However, it reminded me strongly of St Petersburg.  There is no Hermitage, and no Palace or fort, but the whole town is criss-crossed by canals, just like St Petersburg.  Many of the luxurious white houses, villas and apartments back onto the canal and have their own moorings.  Sleek boats of all shapes and sizes can be seen everywhere and they can be hired quite cheaply.  It is such a leisurely way to get around.

The old town of Castello d’Empuries is only about 4km from the new town and is connected to it by the footpath that we walked each day.  It is so quaint that if it were possible to remove the occasional car and delivery lorry, it would be easy to imagine yourself back in the Middle Ages.  There are unspoilt historical monuments, including roman baths, and a fascinating Jewish Quarter.  But the most exciting place for me was the restaurant in the Gothic Portal de la Gallarda.   It is sited over the Gallard gate, which was the fortified entrance to the old town.  There is an ancient moat around the wonderfully conserved walls, which extend to the Basilica of Santa Maria.  We had a superb meal there, contrary to negative TripAdvisors’ reviews ~ and lots of lovely Cava!

My trip was the perfect restorative holiday, and it was rounded off at the airport in Girona when the Spanish ‘Red Arrows’, known as the Patrulla Aguila (Eagle Patrol), flew in.  They had been performing a display in Mataro near Barcelona at the Festa al Cel.  The display team is normally based at San Javier in the Murcia region so we were very lucky to see them. This was a week earlier than usual to avoid the regional elections for the government of Catalunya which take place this Sunday.  These elections are hotly contested and there were flags on many of the houses displaying their allegiances.

Below you can see some of my photos.  They are all connected with my trip and some are in monochrome.

Summer surrenders

Fruit falls from burdened branches

September sweeps by

http://www.castelloempuriabrava.com/en/natural-park.html

On The Way

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Looking back at my photos, I have discovered that I find boats of all shapes and sizes really fascinating.  Maybe this stems from my great grandfather’s life sailing tea clippers from the south China Seas around the world in the 1800s which fascinates me.  Or maybe it’s from my father’s early years working in the shipyards of the Tyne, or his wartime service in the Royal Navy.  But, as I can’t swim, however hard I try and however many lessons I have, boats are an unlikely interest for me to have!

My fear of deep water has several possible sources, the first being that I fell in the icy cold English Channel from a cliff when I was about 10 years old.  I vividly remember thinking as I sank into the murk, how dirty the water was ~ not at all like a swimming pool or the pictures of the ocean you saw on holiday posters at the railway station.

Secondly, where I grew up, my playground was the smoking sulphur heaps left over from the chemical factories, and the old mine workings of a very industrial Gateshead on Tyne.  I stand to be corrected but I never saw or heard of a swimming pool anywhere in the vicinity.  The Public Baths were for people to go and have a wash when they had no facilities at home as far as I knew.

Lastly, in the postwar years the River Tyne was a busy, noisy, dirty and dangerous river dotted with thriving shipyards.  It was not at all as it appears today, all cleaned up with its expensive riverside apartments, leisurely riverside walks, luxurious hotels, The Sage, The Baltic and the spectacular Winking Eye Bridge.  No, the Tyne was a marvellous, powerful river to be admired, respected and wondered at, but feared and kept away from for safety’s sake.

But as I look at my travel photos from Cornwall, Dorset and other parts of the world, there are a lot of boats that I snap on the way.