Calafell Calling

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I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain.  She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.

Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona.  It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning.  The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families.  When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.

It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus.  The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated.  There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains.  There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods.  These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.

A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town.  Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops.  But the rich character of the old town is still visible.  It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century.  There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.

The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town.  Here the buildings are medieval or older.  Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years.  From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see.    For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region.  My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.

The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture.  There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.

One such poster explained that

“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches.  Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”

And I could!  It also explained that

“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians.  During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”

Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell.  However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon.  It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys.  Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours.  Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with.  And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games.  It was a joy just to watch them.

In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more.  Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools.  But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.

Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read.  He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation.  These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction.  When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.

Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community.  It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature.  One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).

I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand.  However, I can appreciate his genius.  Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language.  His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.

The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold.  The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.

There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell.  It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well.  I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.

The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio.  I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain.  I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples.  And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.

While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety.  I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!

Enjoy my photos of Calafell~

Old town and Castle

Park, Beach and swimming pool

L’Espineta

Beach fun

 

 

 

Lines of Enquiry

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Medieval Manuscripts lined up and chained

The WPC theme of lines gives me a chance to post an unlikely group of photos this week. The beautiful lines of the graceful giraffes as they stretch for their leaves, railway lines near my home, truck lines in the iron ore mine at Clearwell Caves, lines of books in the chained library at Hereford cathedral (above), and the lines of poppies weeping from the window there.

I have had a really interesting and enjoyable week getting out and about with some of my favourite people, to some truly fascinating places. I have learned a great deal and conquered a long-standing fear.

I will write individual posts about each place eventually but for now if anything grabs your interest do click on the links to delve deeper.

It started with a trip to my happy place, the Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is in Burford.

Burford is a lovely little Cotswold town which has almost everything you could want. Honey coloured cottages, grand town houses, a fast-flowing river, independent shops, great pubs and a very upmarket garden centre attract many visitors.  But I love the Wildlife Park.  I have been visiting the place almost since it opened in 1970, firstly with my children, then my grandchildren.  It really merits a blog post all to itself but that will have to wait.  Because…

As soon as I got home, I went on a very informative tree walk in my local woods, led by the council Tree Preservation officer. I went on the walk because I have been concerned about the ‘conservation’ work going on, which seems to consist mostly of chopping down trees, to my dismay.   However, after the officer explained the importance of allowing light in through the canopy in order to encourage growth lower down, and on the floor of the woodland, I understood why it was necessary.  And, walking there every day with my dog, I have seen just how much plant life has emerged since the opening up of the canopy.

My next adventure was on Wednesday.  I had volunteered to go on my grandson’s school trip to Clearwell caves. Now, most people who read my blog will know that I am claustrophobic.  Stupidly, I didn’t think the caves would actually be hundreds of feet deep and extremely dark.  There are also many tunnels that can be explored because the caves were mined for centuries for the iron and ochre embedded in the stone.  It soon became very obvious that we were meant to go a fair way down these tunnels with our small groups of young children.

It is amazing what we can do when we have to, and for me there is nothing more important than children, so I made a conscious decision to focus on my little group and make their trip worthwhile. And it worked!  We saw and learned so much history and geology.  While working to hide my fear from the children, I seemed to overcome it.

At the end of the week I had a rare day out with my husband and some very special friends. The weather was atrocious but it was our last chance to see the Weeping Window of poppies at Hereford Cathedral.  I had seen the poppies in the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation in the moat at the Tower of London in 2014.  It was installed to commemorate one hundred years since the First World War (1914-1918) began. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies represented a military fatality during that awful war.   Most of the poppies in that installation were sold to individuals to remember a family member who had fought or died in during those dreadful years.  The proceeds went to 6 charities.  But, a section of the installation called Wave and Weeping Window was retained and went on tour around the country. During the last month it has been near to us at Hereford Cathedral.

Hereford Cathedral is a most fascinating place. It is set in a beautiful area with lovely tranquil gardens and is a huge and imposing stone building.   Inside,  the Cathedral holds some truly rare treasures.  There are exquisite icons, tapestries and stained-glass windows, some by Tom Denny whom I have written about before.  There are shrines and tombs that have been the focus of pilgrimages for 800 years and more.  The Magna Carta of 1217, the Hereford Gospels from the 8th century, and the Mappa Mundi from the 1300s are all here.  This is the largest medieval map known to exist.  However, For me, the most fascinating thing in Hereford Cathedral is the 17th century Chained Library.  Although there are a few others in the UK this is the largest to survive with all its chains, rods and locks intact. Can you imagine a time when books were so rare and precious that they had to be chained to a bookcase in order to keep them from being stolen?  Here they have 229 medieval manuscripts and they each have a chain attached at one end of the front cover.  The other end is slotted on to a rod running along the bottom of each bookshelf.  It is very ingenious because you can take a book down to read but you can’t remove it from the bookcase.  The strangest thing is that the books are all facing the ‘wrong’ way ~ that is with the spine at the back so that the reader does not get the chains tangled when the book is taken down.  Unfortunately, it means that one can’t see the title of the book so there is an elaborate numbered and alphabetical list on the end of each bookcase to show what books are where.

In the Cathedral square there is a lovely statue of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) the composer with his bike. He would have approved of the weeping window I’m sure.  I tried to attach a recording of Nimrod, from his Enigma Variations as it is so beautiful and appropriate. It is often played at remembrance services.  Unfortunately I could not get the attachment to play!

I hope you enjoy my eclectic mix of photos…

From the Wildlife Park

 

From Benhall Woods

 

From Clearwell Caves

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Deep underground the lines that carried the trucks full of iron or ochre

From Hereford Cathedral

From the Chained Library

Cotswold Wildlife Park

 

Thea loves taking photos

One of my favourite places in the Cotswolds is the wildlife park at Burford. It is a very special place to me as the birth and development of the zoo and gardens has run parallel to that of my family.

I dread to think how much money I have spent here over the years, on entry fees, snacks in the café, whippy ice creams, train rides, and the dreaded gift shop! But I believe every penny was well spent for the pleasure it has brought to me and my family.  Not only that, but the money funds lots of conservation work here and abroad.

The wildlife park was opened by John Heyworth during the Easter holidays in 1970, which is just after my first child was born. It is set in the grounds of a beautiful house, Bradwell Grove, which was his childhood home.  In 1970 it cost five shillings (25p) for entry in pre-decimal currency.  These days it costs me £10 as I am officially ancient.  However, as I go so often, I buy a season ticket for £50, which means I can go whenever I like.

Normally the park is open every day except Christmas day. But this year the winter has been so atrocious that the park has been closed on several days due to snow or waterlogged grounds.

Originally there were lots of animals to see including wallabies, tapirs, llamas, hornbills and flamingos. Soon a reptile house was developed.   Then, rhinos and zebras arrived in 1972 when my second child was born.  And, the very popular little railway was opened in 1975 when my third child arrived.  That was followed by insects which I have never been very keen on, and butterflies in glass houses.  Following on from the birth of my fourth and final child, leopards, tigers and bats arrived at the park.

By the time my grandchildren arrived there were lions, giraffes, owls, different types of monkeys, wolves, camels, meerkats and adorable penguins. One of the great attractions these days is the petting area where children can play with goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs and rabbits.  There is also a super adventure playground, which, being an over-anxious granny, I try to steer clear of.

Sadly, John Heyworth died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man with a great love for animals and plants.  Apparently as a child he kept many pets, including rabbits, grass snakes, slow worms and a toad that he found in the garden.  Over the years, as a schoolboy, he added terrapins, tortoises and newts to his menagerie of birds, ducks and slowworms.

This reminds me of my dear friend and roommate at college, Pat, who kept her own menagerie of assorted hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in our tiny room.  She also had a tiny Shetland pony who lived nearby and travelled with us everywhere in the back of a mini with the seats removed!  When we moved to a marginally bigger flat after college, she added snakes, which she kept in the bath!

Nowadays I look after my gorgeous 3-year-old granddaughter, Thea, every Tuesday, and we make a beeline for the wildlife park. Thea’s favourite animal is the white rhino.  This year she was thrilled to meet Belle the little baby rhino.  Belle was born with a leg problem which meant she had to be hand reared and fed from birth.  Thea is very family oriented so she loves to see the mummy and daddy animals with their babies.  I have to say there is something very appealing about seeing large wild animals like rhino, giraffe and zebra breast feeding their small offspring.

I believe our wildlife park visits have nurtured a great love and respect for animals in all of my children and grandchildren.  Here are some of our photos taken over the years and as recently as this week.

 

 

 

Otherworldly

frosty spiders web

There is nothing quite so exciting as waking up to a fresh snowfall.  The beauty of the spider’s web is out of this world.  This week our landscape has been transformed by the heaviest snowfall the UK has seen in years.  It makes for very exciting dog walks and hair-raising drives!  When I was teaching I used to love a ‘snow day’.  But now that I am a little too old for sledging, sitting at the window watching the younger generation having such fun just makes me wistful.  Then my mind drifts….

It snowed overnight and the roads are a fright,

So the schools are all closed ~ on a Friday!

Mums and dads can’t drive, their cars slip and slide

So its family fun on a school day.

Dogs in bright jackets are leaping for joy

Taken out for a walk, on a school day.

Babies and toddlers peep out of their prams

They’re going to the park, on a school day.

Tiny tots muffled in mittens and hats,

Squeal in delight, on a school day.

Giggling girls, hugging their friends,

Slide down the hill, on a school day.

Teen terrors in hoodies become little boys

Throwing snowballs at girls, on a school day.

Steep slopes draw the daring on sledges and boards,

They hurtle downhill, on a school day.

I sit at the window and, like falling snow,

My thoughts pile up into drifts.

My smiles turn to tears at the sights and sounds

Of my school days, as the frozen scene shifts.

Of ink wells and blotters, of wafers and milk,

Of chalk boards and outside loos;

Of walking to school by the RiverTyne,

Of castles, and coalmines and ships.

And then there are people, who wave as they pass,

Loved aunties and cousins and friends

A younger brother no longer in touch

A mother and father I mourned.

There are icicles hanging near a frozen stream,

The snow covered branches are bending

The field is a snow frosted wonderland

Its beauty my broken heart mending.

I wrote this poem the last time there was heavy snow on a Friday, in 2013.  Here are some of the photos I took then from my window or on my rambles/trudges through the Cotswolds.

Remembrance Sunday

Back of hotel

Following last week’s exciting trip to Spain, I had a marvellously luxurious weekend at the local Tewkesbury Park Hotel to celebrate a family birthday.  All of this travel and excitement is experimental for me as I have been a bit housebound over the last few years for various reasons.

While some of our group played golf and some had spa treatments or relaxed, I went for a stroll around the grounds with my camera.  Being set high on a hill there are amazing views, towards the Malvern Hills, Brecon Beacons, River Severn and Tewkesbury itself.

There is so much to see in Tewkesbury with its medieval buildings and alleys, and two powerful rivers, the Severn and the Avon, that meet there.  There is always lots of activity around the river, whether it be pleasure-boating or fishing.  Occasionally of course the rivers flood the town, but the locals are so used to it that they are very well prepared and cope brilliantly.

At the heart of the town is Tewkesbury Abbey.  There is so much history surrounding this abbey that it is worth visiting over and over again.  I used to take school groups there when I was teaching, or foreign visitors when I was involved in Global Footsteps.

There is also a fascinating history in the hotel site too.  I am one of those people who has to find out as much as I can about everywhere I go, so I started to delve.  I was thrilled to discover that recorded history goes back to when the park was enclosed between 1185 and 1187.  The park covered 200 acres then and was stocked with deer.  By the late 14th century there was a large medieval timber and stone manor house on the site, which was called Tewkesbury Lodge.  By 1540 records taken after the dissolution of the Monasteries showed that the deer park covered 80 acres with the rest being agricultural.  There are no records of deer at the park after that.

The original manor house was at times owned by the crown or by the abbey as well as private individuals including the Clare family who used it as a hunting lodge.

kneeling knight

But, one of the most fascinating owners for me was Edward, Baron Le Despenser, who died in his 30’s in 1375.  He has a beautiful monument known as ‘The Kneeling Knight’, in Tewkesbury Abbey, which I have often admired.  It seems unusual for a knight to be depicted kneeling above a chapel.

At some point the medieval house was demolished, and the present building was built in the 18th century by the Wall family.   The last private owner was Violet Sargeaunt who lived there from 1933 until her death in 1973.  Finally, a superb golf course was developed, which opened in 1976 and the hotel prospered alongside it.

I walked down to the heart-wrenching field that lies at the foot of the hotel’s driveway.  It is called Bloody Meadow and it recalls The Battle of Tewkesbury which brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York (white rose symbol) and the house of Lancaster (red rose symbol).  The Yorkist King Edward 1V was victorious, while Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry V1 and last Lancastrian heir to the throne, was killed, aged just 17.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with a Latin inscription which translates as,

“Here lies Edward, Prince of Wales, cruelly slain whilst but a youth, Anno Domine 1471, May fourth. Alas the savagery of men. Thou art the soul light of thy Mother, and the last hope of thy race.”

Grave of Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a spectacular carving which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sunne in splendour’.   It is admirable on the one hand that both winner and loser are remembered in the Abbey, but I find it rather gloating that the massive ‘sunne in splendour’ dominates the roofspace and ‘lords it’ forever over the poor defeated young prince.

medieval sunne in splendour

At the entrance to the ‘Bloody Meadow’, a commemorative plaque on the fence reads,

The field has been called the bloody meadow for more than 500 years, and tradition says that it is the meadow where so many were taken and slain.  This is possibly where Edward, Prince of Wales, met his death.  Other Lancastrians killed in the field almost certainly in the rout, include the Earl of Devonshire, The Marquis of Dorset and Sir William Rous.

The field is long and constricted, a death trap for men who are edging backwards whilst trying to avoid lethal blows.  How many fell is not recorded. Only important people were named.  Those who escaped the Bloody Meadow were faced with crossing the Mill Avon, and many drowned.

I took photos here but felt incredibly sad for the common soldiers who were buried in this meadow in anonymous pits while the nobles were interred in the Abbey and its graveyard.

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When I left the hotel, I stopped at the roundabout on the outskirts of Tewkesbury to marvel at the commemorative sculptures officially called the Arrivall.  I like to call them Victor and Vanquished.  This is a high vantage point from where the army of King Edward 1V could have seen the Duke of Somerset leading King Henry V1’s ill-fated army.

I have written about this sculpture before but on this day, being Remembrance Sunday, it was embellished with a ‘Lest we forget flag’, which somehow just reinforced the ongoing inevitability, futility, and tragedy of war for me.

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Victor represents the Yorkist army under Edward IV and is located on the roundabout itself. This part of the sculpture shows a horse and rider, the rider has a traditional lance with a pennant on top.

Vanquished, that represents the defeated Lancastrian army. This army was led by the Duke of Somerset, supporting Henry VI. Vanquished is a riderless horse, with its head bowed and a lance leaning on its back.

Here is a link for anyone seriously interested in the history of this fascinating area.

A Circular Walk

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Tramway Bridge in Stratford on Avon, now just for pedestrians

I lead quite a pedestrian life these days, but I am very grateful that I am still reasonably fit, and can still enjoy regular walks.  Today I am especially grateful, as this autumn is glorious in the Cotswolds.  The sun is shining through the trees in the woods where I take my little dog for her walks, and the ground is covered with golden leaves.

Another walk that I never tire of, and take as often as I can, is the circular walk beside the river Avon in Stratford.  As a teenager I used to walk to school along the old bridge built in 1822 for horse trams.  It is now a pedestrian bridge, which leads to Bancroft gardens and the town.  But if you turn left, instead of crossing the tramway bridge, you can take a beautiful walk alongside the river.  Here you will get the most spectacular views of the Shakespeare Theatre, and Holy Trinity Church, which is the burial place of William Shakespeare.  The path goes on past the ferry, weirs and the old mill, but there is a bridge which you can cross to get into the oldest part of the town.

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Weir on the Avon at Stratford

Whenever I have visitors, I take them to the Old Town to see some of the most beautiful places in Stratford.  I start at the British Legion memorial garden which is always peaceful and very moving.  There are several plaques on the wall about both World Wars.  There is also one of the most beautiful garden seats I have ever seen.  It is wrought in iron and has a design of soldiers marching amongst poppies.

WW1 memorial garden seat

British Legion memorial garden bench to remember the centenary of WW1

From there I walk past the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband Dr John Hall.  The main part of this beautiful house was built in 1613!

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Halls Croft

I then turn left into Church Street and walk on to Chapel Lane where there are some of the oldest buildings in the town, which were built for the Guild of the Holy Cross. This guild virtually controlled the town in the middle ages.  First you see a row of almshouses for the poor and needy parishioners.

As a teenager I used to collect shopping for a wonderful old French lady who lived in one of the almshouses.  Inside, the rooms had solid oak floors which creaked, and low timbered ceilings.  I believe they were renovated in the 1980s and brought up to date inside, but the outside is thankfully unchanged.

Next door to the almshouses is the Guild Hall where you can visit Shakespeare’s actual schoolroom.  Then there is the Guild Chapel, with a history dating back to 1269!

Opposite the Guild Chapel is the site of New Place with its gorgeous gardens.  When Shakespeare bought New Place it was the second biggest house in Stratford.  It was his family’s home from 1597 until he died there in 1616.  Sadly, the house was demolished in the 18th century, but visitors can really connect with Shakespeare in the garden through imaginative artworks reflecting the plays.  It is believed that Shakespeare wrote the Tempest here and this summer there was wonderful artwork on that theme.

Nash's House next to New Place

Nash’s House next to New Place

On the other side of the road, on the High Street, is the oldest pub in the town.  The Garrick Inn, like many buildings in the old town, is a timber framed and dates back to the 1400’s.  It revels in its colourful history of plagues, fires, priest holes, and ghosts!

 

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

The Garrick Inn and Harvard House

Next door to the pub is Harvard House, where John Harvard was born in 1607.  He married and emigrated to Massachusetts in America where he was a preacher and teaching elder.  When he died of TB he left 230 books and a very generous legacy to a fund for the founding of a new college.  This was to become Harvard College, the oldest institution of higher education in America.  The house is preserved thanks to the work of Marie Corelli, the writer.  She lived in Stratford at the height of her fame and was passionate about preserving the old buildings in the town.  She bought Harvard House in a dilapidated state and was determined to save it.  In 1905, Marie met an American couple, Mr and Mrs Morris, who agreed to help pay for the restoration as a sign of friendship between UK and USA.   Between them, they donated the house to Harvard University, and, at the grand re-opening in October 1909, the American ambassador, Whitelaw Reid, declared it ‘free to all visiting sons of Harvard, and a rendezvous for all visiting Americans’.

I would probably go on to Shakespeare’s birthplace from here.  It really is worth going into the Birthplace Trust just to find out what Stratford was like in his day.

From there I would go back towards the theatre and the Bancroft Gardens and return to my car via the Tramway, picking up a whippy ice-cream on the way.

I have written other posts about Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, which you can read by clicking the links.  But for now, you can enjoy some of the photos from my last circular walk!

 

 

 

 

Layers of Leaves

Layers of Leaves

I can’t resist the photos of my grandchildren, layered in clothes, playing in layers of leaves in the woodland.  Autumn has arrived in the Cotswolds, and it is certainly a magical time of year.

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Layers of leaves lie

Overwhelming the senses

Deep in the forest