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

 

 

 

A City in a Forest

Souls entwined at the Peace Pagoda

This weekend I visited relatives who live in Willen, very close to the North Lake.  Willen is one of the dozen or so ancient villages that were absorbed when the new town of Milton Keynes was built 50 years ago.  I remember driving through the area with my father when the town was being built.  I was fascinated by the ‘grid system’ of the roads, horrified by the number of roundabouts and underpasses, and amazed by the number of tree-lined cycle paths.  Driving through the city again this weekend, I was amused by the street names, delighted by the beauty of the trees and parks, and relieved to see that some of the old villages have still retained their individual identity and historic buildings.

My dream house

There are two lakes in Willen, North and South and both are beautiful in very different ways.   South Lake, and the park it is set in, is a hive of activity.  On the lake there are facilities for water sports like canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, and paddle sports, as well as an area for fishing.  In the park there are areas for golfing, cycling, football, table tennis, aerial adventures, jogging and gymnastics; as well as a wonderful children’s adventure playground.

In total contrast, North Lake is set in the most serene park I have ever visited.  It is a designated and protected wildlife and nature reserve and there are waders and waterfowl galore.  There is also a Peace Pagoda, the first ever built in Western Europe.   It was built by monks and nuns of the Nipponzan Myoholi as a symbol of world peace and is meant to promote unity among all the peoples of the world regardless of race, creed, or border.   It opened in September 1980.   In front of the pagoda stand two creatures from Japanese legend.   Shishi, the paired lion-dogs are said to have magical powers that repel evil.

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Near the pagoda is the Buddhist Temple as well as Japanese and Zen gardens.   There is such an air of serenity around the pagoda and the Temple.  It draws me to it.

Near the temple is a medicine wheel of stones, which looks a bit like the ancient stone circle at Avebury.   It is said that a ley line passes through this area and close by is a single ‘needle’ stone that catches the rising midsummer sun.  There certainly are a lot of mystical and spiritual influences in the area of Willen and Milton Keynes.  If you are interested you can read more at this link.

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There is so much to see on and around the lake.  I was very impressed by all the artwork.  There is a fascinating Labyrinth and a beautiful pure white memorial statue named ‘Souls in Love’.  The sight of this statue aligned with a pure white swan and the white peace pagoda gleaming in the setting sun was totally stunning.  Of course my photos, taken with my phone, don’t do it justice; but I hope you enjoy them anyway.

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While I was at the lakeside I saw waders and waterfowl galore, as well as the most spectacular murmuration of starlings as dusk fell.  A group of ‘twitchers’ with very impressive cameras was gathered at the edge of the lake to watch the amazing aerial display.  There must have been thousands of birds flying so close together that they seem to move as one.  I watched them swoop and soar as they selected just the right spot to roost for the night.  As they got closer and the sky got darker, the sound of their wings was deafening, then silence fell as they all settled.  The whole spectacle was breathtaking, a beautiful ballet.  Do watch this video if you have never witnessed a murmuration or check out these fabulous photos from the Guardian.

All in all a very enjoyable weekend.

Take a peek at my week

Blue Skies over Madrid

My photos will give you a peek into the variety of exciting places I’ve been to recently.  It has been a most unusual time.

Over the course of 7 days I got in or on 2 planes, 4 underground trains, 4 taxis and countless lifts.  Anyone who knows me well or has read my post about my attempted trip to the USA, will know that I find travelling challenging to say the least!

I used to travel all over the world for work, twinning, conferences, pilgrimages, or just pleasure and you can read some of my travel blogs on these links Russia, USA , Lourdes, Kenya , Poland.

But, this time I was heading to Spain for my grandson’s christening.  And, with a trusted friend for company, I made it.

We breakfasted in London, spent 3 nights in a gorgeous apartment in the beautiful town of Tres Cantos, attended the Christening in the ancient town of Manzanares el Real, and celebrated with a wonderful family lunch in Madrid.

We managed to do a bit of sight-seeing in each of these very different places, then returned to London and reality.

Tres Cantos is a beautiful ‘new town’, which has been really well planned.  The wonderful weather and seemingly perpetual blue sky helps of course.  But everywhere was spotless with parks, fountains, and lots of pedestrianised areas.   It has the advantage of being close enough to Madrid for commuting too.

Central Madrid, or the small area that we saw, is exquisite.  The impressive white buildings gleam in the sunshine and the roads seemed incredibly wide.  Here too we found beautiful tree-lined pavements with water features, fountains and statues.  Since we were in the city, coincidentally, during the demonstrations in support of a unified Spain, there were Spanish flags flying from many buildings.  We were told that one of the flags is the biggest in the world!

We were very impressed to see a huge banner across the front of the Palacio de Communicaciones, which has got to be the most impressive ‘Post Office’ in the world.  The banner reads, “Refugees Welcome”.

A little further on and we saw the National Museum of Prado.  For almost 200 years this world-famous art gallery has given visitors the opportunity to see the best of the best in painting and sculpture.  I would love to go back to spend whole days in there.

So, we relaxed in Tres Cantos, were blown away by the culture of the city of Madrid and its people; but what of Manzanares el Real?  Well, 20 plus years ago I visited Yellowstone National Park in America and literally could not believe my eyes.  The geology of that place seemed totally other-worldly with its extraordinary geysers, hot springs, mudpots, steam vents, and bubbling rivers.   The wildlife too was totally alien to me.  I saw bears, bison, moose, elk, antelope, marmots, chipmunks, and even a mountain lion!  So I didn’t expect this relatively small and ancient town to surprise me as much as it did.  It is truly unusual and spectacularly scenic.  I believe the name means ‘Royal Apple Orchard’, and it gives its name to the River Manzanares which flows from the Sierra de Guadarrama, on through Madrid.  The ‘royal’ bit comes from the fabulous restored castle which we visited.

The town is set at the foot of a spectacular mountain range called La Pedriza.  The whole area is dotted with huge granite boulders which are unusually rounded and smoothed.  They are everywhere to the extent that the houses in the area that I visited are just plonked on, in, or around the boulders.  This makes for very unusual gardens, and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘man-cave’, as there really are caves in some of the gardens!  The whole area is a dream for rock climbers and nature lovers.  There are also spectacular views of the huge Santillana reservoir, which attracts large colonies of water birds as well as birds of prey.  Higher up among the boulders; I was informed by my son who runs there daily with his dogs; there are red deer, wild cats, wild boar and wolves.

And he wonders why I worry!

Photos from Madrid

Photos from Manzanares el Real

The Cotswold Lion

The Cotswold Lion

 

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Cotswold Lions at Prinknash Abbey farm

‘In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold’
(12th century saying).

This week I am thinking about texture.  

There are two types of texture, actual texture which you can feel or touch, and visual texture which uses marks to give the illusion of a textured surface.  It fascinates me that the word texture originated from from the Latin textilis ~ woven, from texere ~ to weave and the 17th century word Textile has the same root.  A textile is literally ‘that which has been woven’.   So this weekend I set out to learn more about it.

There can’t be a more random selection of textures than stone, wool, water, grass and brass; however, there is a link!  And it is at the heart of this beautiful area I live in called the Cotswolds.

The Cotswold land is ideal for sheep grazing and in medieval times the Abbeys and Monasteries kept huge flocks of the native breed, which was, and still is, known as the Cotswold Lion, because it has a long shaggy mane over its eyes.  These are stocky animals that breed well and grow quickly.  Their wool is so long, fine, white and soft that it was known as the ‘golden fleece’ ~ because of the wealth it created, not the colour.

From the earliest times the wool itself was traded, but by the middle ages whole cottage industries grew up to process the wool into cloth.  The clothier and his family prepared the raw wool then gave it to his neighbours to be spun by the women and children.  It was then woven by men in their homes.  The weavers’ cottages had long, low windows in order to give maximum light to the looms.  After processing the cloth was extremely dense and almost waterproof due to the nap, which was ideal for the military, huntsmen and landowners.

The merchants who traded in this fine cloth became extremely wealthy. They used their wealth to build wonderful houses out of the local Cotswold stone and to build and furnish exquisite churches in the market towns and villages, with stained glass, stone carvings and brasses.

Yes, the rolling fields, honey coloured stone cottages, ancient mills and beautiful churches that make up our landscape are all here because of sheep.  The names of the villages such as Sheepscombe reflect the trade, and even our pubs and inns like the Fleece or the Ram are reminiscent of the wool trade.

I visited the church of St. Peter and St. Paul at Northleach today.  It is one of the largest and finest wool churches in England.  There are some fascinating brasses in this church with images of the merchants with sacks of wool or sheep as their footrest.  They date back to the 1400s.  One or two of the brasses were particularly interesting as they showed that women could be wealthy merchants too.  And, one particularly striking couple had their 15 children shown on the brass!

By the 16th century the industry was moving away from the small towns and villages to be nearer to the Stroud valley where the fast-flowing streams supplied the power to drive the fulling mills.  In its heyday, there were around 200 mills in the Stroud valley and many of them are still standing today.  They are converted for other industrial uses now or renovated into rather swish apartments.

I learned some fascinating facts today.  Who knew that subsequent to the ‘Burial in Wool acts of 1667 and 1668’, all bodies had to be buried in wool unless they died of plague.  This law was only repealed in 1814.  It stated that,

“No corps should be buried in anything other than what is made of sheep’s wool only; or put into any coffin lined or faced with any material but sheep’s wool, on pain of forfeiture of £5.”

The old saying – “You can’t pull the wool over my eyes”, came from being buried in a shroud of wool, and meant that “I am not dead!”

You may know that there is a large wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered in red cloth in the House of Lords.  This is called the Woolsack and is where the Lord Speaker sits during Parliamentary proceedings with the Mace on the woolsack behind him.  It was introduced by King Edward III (1327-77) and originally stuffed with English wool as a reminder of England’s traditional source of wealth – the wool trade.  There is also a larger woolsack where senior Judges sit during the State Opening of Parliament.

Here are some photos from Northleach where wealthy cloth merchant John Fortey paid for the church renovations

 

Here are some photos from Bibury where wool was treated on Rack isle

 

And lastly some photos from Nailsworth where the Fulling Mills refined the texture of the cloth.

 

And lastly, to the pub, The Fleece at Bretforton!

 

I could write so much more, but if you are interested I can recommend these very knowledgeable and interesting websites:

http://www.cotswoldjourneys.com/cotswolds-guide/the-cotswolds-wool-trade/

http://stroud-textile.org.uk/history/background-to-the-local-wool-industry/

 

What are the streets that have no memories

What are the streets that have no memories

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This unusual public art by Wolfgang Buttress is a 22-metre-high beacon and landmark on the way between Gloucester Docks and the city centre.  It symbolises a candle as a reference to the nearby Cathedral, or a flame to remind us of the many fires which have devastated the old buildings over the years.  The most recent fire was at Bakers Quay, which I wrote about a couple of years ago.

The structure is made of ‘Cor-ten’ steel, which I’m not a great fan of!  It seems to be cropping up all over the place on public buildings and local businesses such as restaurants.  It is supposedly a ‘high strength, low alloy, weldable structural steel, which possesses excellent weathering resistance due to the formation of a protective oxide coating which seals the surface’.  This is supposed to give an attractive finish, but to me it just looks rusty!  I think it is a case of the ‘king’s new clothes’.  I can’t imagine what my old dad would have thought of it, as he spent his life in the steel industry and presumably was not a great fan of rusty structures!

 The structure is etched with the words of Ivor Gurney’s poem, Requiem;

Requiem

Pour out your light, O stars, and do not hold
Your loveliest shining from earth’s outworn shell
Pure and cold your radiance – pure and cold
My dead friends face as well.

Requiem

Pour out your bounty moon of radiant shining
On all this shattered flesh, on all these quiet forms;
For these were slain, so quiet still reclining
In the noblest cause was ever waged with arms.

I have written about Ivor Gurney (1890-1937, a gifted composer, musician and poet, in a previous post. He was born in Gloucester and became a chorister at the Cathedral.  Later, he played the organ at the Mariners’ Chapel which I also wrote about recently.

While serving in the trenches during the first world war Ivor wrote very moving poetry about his experiences, and memories of his beloved Gloucestershire, the people, the history and the beauty of its nature.

A truly thought provoking poem written by Gurney is Thoughts of New England.  It really moves me as it speaks of the Gloucestershire people who emigrated to the New World. Three of my children emigrated, one to New England, so it has a special relevance to me. And, while I can see the appeal of a new life in a vast country with seemingly endless opportunities, like Gurney, I am tied to this tiny island country with it’s history and heritage.  I feel the weight of the past in the rivers, the buildings, the countryside and the people.  Hence the title I chose, which is a line from Gurney’s poem…

Thoughts of New England by Ivor Gurney

Gloucester streets walking in Autumn twilight,
Past Kineburgh’s cottage and old Raven Tavern,
That Hoare he kept, the Puritan, who tired
Or fired, and took a passage in the ‘Mayflower’,
Gloucester streets walking in frost-clear hour —
Of ‘Captains Courageous’ as a boy read, thinking,
And sea-ports, ships, and all that boy desired . . . .
Walt Whitman, history-scraps and Huck Finn’s cavern:
My thoughts went wondering how the New England Folk
Walked twilight now, watched stars steady or blinking —
If thoughts came Eastward as mine Westward went.
Of our ‘Citizen’, the ‘Massachusetts Times’,
And the boys crying them perhaps about their lanes.
But those no historied ground of Roman or Danes.

What are the streets that have no memories,
That are not underset by ancient rubbish?
Where gables overhang, and the quarters clang
From Cathedral towers, and the slops or dinner dish,
Hurried a man voids handily into the gutter:
And ghosts haunt the streets and of old troubles mutter.
Where steel and scarlet of the military
And routine use flash vivid momentarily;
Imagination stricken unaccountably
At full day into pictures not looked for even,
And children from their play by curfew driven.

Are there men of my blood over Atlantic
Wondering there what light is growing thick
By Severn and what real thing Cotswold is?
Are there men walking slow till tiredness leads in
To write or read till the night’s veil grows thin;
Insatiate desiring what hope would win?
Is the air clear there as Thoreau’s prose,
With frost and sparkling water, and day’s close
As mild, as soft as shows in ‘Evangeline’?
(Since all verse from the air or earth does win).

Do they hear tell of Domesday Book, and not
Think of this Gloucester where the scrivener wrote
Command of reeves first set their lists to begin?
Do they wish walk at evening where the earls went in
And William: Are there not crowns of England old
That first in Gloucester’s Abbey showed their gold?
Can villas contain man in unloving hold
As here the cornered, the nooked low-ceilinged beetle-browed
Houses cloak man in; or the strict thoroughfares
Stone or asphalt-paved ally to man?

Are there great joys in April her high days
For those who cannot high imaginations see
Of other men builded, stirred to a great praise?
Cotswold earthing profound for white material,
Masses of stone gone slender as a silver birch,
Upwards in dazzle to an arching azure.

O where in the new towns shall recompense come,
For the market-days, the week-end trouble without measure,
The crowded four ways and cattle markets boom,
And country faces seen often with so much pleasure?

Can New England think deep thoughts of her bye-ways,
Is Abana and Pharpar a balance for
Severn receiving Avon, at her knot of highways,
Her Abbey township, beneath so high a cloud floor?

But nevertheless one would go very willingly
At the year’s turn, where Washington or Lincoln walked,
Or praise ‘Drum Taps’ or ‘This Compost’, and hear talked
Speech of Lowell, or Hawthorne, or Holmes and be
Pleased with citizenship of Gloucester or Worcester
And companionship of veterans or veteran’s sons
Of the Wilderness or Richmond, see the old guns
That set Chattanooga’s thronged woods astir;
Or woke terror in steadfastness with red anger.

But not for longer than the strangeness lasted.
Severn yet calls not to be resisted:
And the mix of Dane thoughts, Roman, with Middle-Age
Calls all love out to mark on any page.

The glory of Peter’s Abbey high up in Summer,
Or low in Winter’s gloom, and a wavering shape,
Are more than is ever seen by foreign comer
To Connecticut, or Staten or Providence with its cape,
Being loveliness and history and height in one.

And there is nothing uprooted that is not changed.
Better to stay and wonder in the half light
How New England saunters where Kipling loved and ranged, so
And watch the starling flocks in first autumn flight.

The New World has qualities its own,
But the Old not yet decrepit or withered is grown,
And brick and timber of age five centuries known
Are consolation for poverty enough
Against New York, where they say Opera is brilliant,
And the byeways with five dollar notes are strown.
The stuff of Liberty is a varying stuff,
But from Grant’s men. Lee’s men, nobleness should never want.

Here are some of my photos of historic Gloucester to enjoy…

 

 

 

 

Cotswold Collage

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Someone asked me this week if I could recommend places to visit in the Cotswolds for some travellers from USA. Well I am always delighted to boast about just how special the Cotswolds are so I decided to use this as the basis of my weekly photo challenge theme, which is ‘Collage’.

Of course, the best way to truly get to know the Cotswolds is to walk the Cotswold Way.  This walk is literally 100 miles of quintessentially English countryside.  It stretches from Chipping Camden to Bath, taking in picture-perfect villages and ancient sites of historic interest.  The entire area is designated as a place of outstanding natural beauty.

There are bus tours and mini-bus tours of the Cotswolds from towns like Stratford, which I would heartily recommend if you don’t mind being herded with the crowds.  However, if money is no object, I would recommend one of the expert private tour companies who provide beautiful cars and knowledgeable drivers.  They will plan a tour to reflect your interests, whether they be literary, historical, sporting, spiritual, or whatever.

You could even discover the area on horseback, glide along the rivers and canals on a boat trip, or fly over it in a hot air balloon or helicopter.

But for lucky people who live in the Cotswolds, we can spend a lifetime enjoying the scenery and discovering fascinating facts about the people and places that made the area what it is today.

There are honey coloured thatched stone cottages dotted around villages such as Wick and Winchcombe; Stately homes, Castles and Palaces like Sudeley, Warwick and Blenheim; Abbeys, Monasteries, Cathedrals and ancient Churches like Tewkesbury, Prinknash, Gloucester and Ampney St Mary.

There are also glorious rolling hills and farmland bordered by dry stone walls, where healthy sheep graze.  Much of the area’s wealth arose from the wool these hardy sheep produced.

There are also majestic forests, ancient oak woodland and more recently planted specimen trees at Westonbirt Arboretum.  And if gardens are your thing, we are spoilt for choice with Hidcote and Kiftsgate among many others, which include Prince Charles’s own garden at Highgrove.

The Cotswolds also has plenty for the water lovers, with beautiful rivers, canals, docks, quays and lakes.  The great River Thames actually starts in the Cotswolds and we have the tidal River Severn that flows to the sea.

If that is enough to entice you to visit the Cotswolds I will now add a collage of my photos…

 

“Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire”

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Beached

For this week’s, WPC theme of ‘danger’, I thought I could post my daughter’s photo of the injured seal that had worn itself out and washed itself up on the beach near Santa Cruz, where she lives.  It was in grave danger until Lisa called Marine Rescue, who turned up quickly and returned to poor creature safely into the ocean.

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There was also a photo of a skunk walking down the garden path between Lisa and her front door!  Skunks are notoriously aggressive, unafraid of humans, carry diseases and smell disgusting.  She was in great danger of being attacked or sprayed as she carried her shopping in from the car.

But then, as I was reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice for my Open University course, I suddenly realised just how much danger some persecuted individuals or groups have faced, over the centuries.

In the Merchant of Venice, it is Shylock who is hated for being Jewish.  Shakespeare explores this brilliantly as only he can.  But it reminded me of places I have visited where evidence of the dangers of being Jewish is still clearly visible, or just below the surface.

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Wrought Iron Star of David on the Cemetery gate in Krakow

Last year I visited a little Catalan town called Empuriabrava.  In the old town, I was horrified by the evidence of past abuse of Jews. There was a cemetery dedicated specifically to those who had been coerced into converting to Christianity.
“On 18th February, 1417 more than 100 people were baptised at the font of the Basilica of Santa Maria, surrounded by their godfathers and authorities.
In 1415, there was the first wave of mass conversions to Christianity as a result of the Perpignan ordinations driven by Benedict X111, known as “Papa Luna”. From that moment on, the converted Jews were buried in a delimited space of the Christian cemetery. The cemetery was attached to the Northern wall of the apse of the basilica. This area has been known for centuries as “the cemetery for the converted Jews”. Nowadays part of the old cemetery is occupied by the Cappella del Santissim, built in 1724, and the other part has been restored as a pedestrian walkway. “
It is a beautiful, peaceful town now but I have to say the references and reminders of those dark times were everywhere, and quite menacing.

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wrought iron representing barbed wire on the cemetery wall

At Gettysberg, Maj. Gen. Joshua L Chamberlain said,

“On great fields, something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; buts spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision – place of souls”.

I knew exactly what he meant when I travelled to Krakow in Poland.

The city of Krakow is beautiful, compact, well preserved and a joy to walk around.  But my visit to the old Jewish quarter in Kazimierz as well as my visit to Schindler’s Enamel factory in Zablocie, which is now a museum, was a revelation.  It happened that I was there on 14thMarch 2012, 69 years to the day of the “final purge”.  The fact that this holocaust happened within living memory is horrific.  The fact that slaughter of innocents on this scale may be happening in parts of the world today is unbearable.

There were about 225,000 Jews living in Krakow before the war but only about 15,000 managed to survive it with the help of brave Poles who kept them hidden, and the enigmatic German Oskar Schindler who needed the cheap labour force they provided.

In March 1941, all Krakow Jews who previously lived in areas such as Kazimierz were forced to live in the new ghetto of Podgorze. The area comprised 320 buildings which had been home to the poorest Poles.  Almost 17000 Jews were now crammed into these buildings and the area was surrounded by barbed wire and walls.  By the autumn of 1941 the jobless Jews who did not have the correct paperwork were transported to concentration camps or shot where they stood.

On March 13-14th 1943 the final extermination was begun.  The first-hand accounts of the few who survived these events were recorded and can be heard at the Schindler factory which is now a museum.  I heard that the remaining men were separated from the women and children.  They were marched off to be used as forced labour.  Any who could not walk unaided were shot on the spot.  Then German soldiers went through the buildings clearing out the women and children to be loaded onto transport which would take them to the extermination camps.  Children and babies were just thrown out of the windows onto the waiting carts, not all landed safely.  The sick and elderly were just killed where they lay.
Literally thousands of Jews were loaded onto transport to the Plaszow camp where they gradually died from starvation, beating, disease, hard labour or execution.   Thousands of others were taken to the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau over the next few months.   The Auschwitz archives record the fate of those transported.  In February 1944 the remaining men arrived, in May the rest of the children and in August the women.  They all died in the gas chambers shortly afterwards.  The final transport of prisoners from Krakow arrived in Auschwitz the day before the camp was liberated by the Soviet army.
For a harrowing first hand eyewitness account of all the deportations including the final purge there is the memoir, The Cracow Ghetto Pharmacy by Tadeusz Pankiewicz.

Here are some photos from the displays at the Schindler factory or the Jewish Museum which touched me greatly.  They show families and groups of Jews being taken or led away from the ghetto to the camps.  They had to carry whatever they could and abandon the rest.  The last picture shows the Plaszow Camp between 1943-44 where women are being marched to forced labour.

 

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

Steam train from every angle

Steam train from every angle

Well it is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK so as usual the weather is atrocious.  The rain is pouring down.  I have a sweater on as it is cool to say the least.  I feel so sorry for all the residents of local North Cotswold villages and towns who had planned fetes, festivals, open gardens and the like.  Their long planned for events will all be a washout.

I had planned to go to Childswickham for the ‘retro’ English Village Fete on the village green.  There was to be a flower festival in the church too.  After this I had planned to go to Dumbleton, which is a quintessential English village.  It has a pretty church, a well-used cricket club and a picturesque 19th century Hall which is now a hotel.  There are magnificent trees around beautiful parkland all set off by pretty little cottages and some rather grand houses.  Later I would have gone along the road to my favourite village of Broadway for good food and live music on the green.

I imagined I would get some good shots with my new digital camera (Panasonic Lumix TZ70) that I could take from every angle for this week’s photo challenge.  But it is not to be.  Instead I will use some shots I took some time ago at Toddington Railway Station.

This wonderful old steam railway takes me back to my childhood when we would take day trips by steam train from the grime of Gateshead to the fresh air and fun of the seaside at Whitley bay or South Shields.   It is beautifully restored, maintained and run by dedicated volunteers of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.  The route it takes gives wonderful views of the Cotswolds, and the towns and villages it passes through.

It is so beautiful that it is sometimes used as a film set and that is how I got my shots.  Alex Sibo, who was studying at our local university, wrote, directed and produced a short documentary film about his family history.  It follows the story of his grandfather, Bruno Siba, as he managed to escape WW11 Czechoslovakia.  He had to hide his identity and change his name in order to escape.  I played a minor part in his film, which was great fun.  You can watch a bit of the film here.

Here are my rather atmospheric shots of Toddington railway station early on a damp morning.  There are more recent shots on a previous blog.

Close up and personal

Close up and personal

In 1994 we took the trip of a lifetime to the North West of America and into Canada.  It was a self-drive trip lasting 3 weeks and covering up to 350 miles a day of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.  I have rather craftily used my memories of this trip to illustrate both the Half and Half prompt, and the Close Up prompt for the Weekly Photo Challenge.

Here I am standing at the North American Continental Divide in Yellowstone national Park which is part of the Rocky Mountain range.   The Continental Divide is the separation between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean drainage systems.  In Spring, rain water and melting snows flow into the Isa Lake which sits astride the divide and it overflows.  Oddly, the water that drains to the East eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean through Shoshone Lake and the Lewis, Snake and Columbia rivers.  The water that flows West, eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean via the Firehole, Madison, Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  So I think that qualifies as half and half!

Our round trip started off with an exciting few nights in Seattle, Washington, followed by a flight to Vancouver in Canada and a ferry trip to the gorgeous Vancouver Island.  From there we drove to Jasper National Park in Alberta and on to Banff.  The drive between Jasper and Banff taking in Lake Louise has got to be the most beautiful stretch of scenery in the whole world.  It just took my breath away. From there we drove back into the USA to Glacier National Park via the ‘Big Sky Country’ of Montana.  I absolutely loved everything about Montana, the wide open spaces and the Rocky Mountains, but especially Yellowstone National Park.  There are no adjectives extravagant enough to describe the Natural Wonders of Yellowstone.  It has to be seen to be appreciated.  It is simply other-worldly.  The bubbling geysers and hissing hot springs remind visitors that they are walking on an active supervolcano!   The pastel colours of the thin crust over the volatile earth are tempting to walk on but treacherous. The lakes, rivers and waterfalls are spectacular, while the fireholes and popping mudpots are what I imagine hell to be like!  Everything about the wildlife in Yellowstone is remarkable.  We watched soaring ospreys carried by the thermal currents in deep canyons.  We saw petrified trees, herds of bison, families of elk, prowling black bears and yellow bellied marmots, all reasonably close up!

http://www.yellowstonepark.com/natural-wonders/volcanos/

Victor and Vanquished ~ Symbol of The Battle of Tewkesbury

Victor Victor

This weekend there is a Medieval Festival taking place in the nearby market town of Tewkesbury.  It is an annual event which commemorates the Battle of Tewkesbury which took place here on 4th May 1471.  The main event is a very realistic re-enactment of the battle on the actual site.

The Battle of Tewkesbury brought to an end the Wars of the Roses between the house of York whose symbol was the red rose, and the house of Lancaster, whose symbol was the white rose.  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.  His burial place lies in Tewkesbury Abbey with an inscription which reads,

“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.”

Also in Tewkesbury Abbey high up on the ceiling there is a magnificent Red Rose carved, which shows the badge of Edward 1V, the ‘sun in splendour’.

Fittingly, both the victor and the vanquished are remembered in the Abbey.  They are also remembered by an impressive sculpture, which was installed on the Stonehills Roundabout at the Tewkesbury end of the A38 road to Gloucester last year.  The sculpture is called ‘Arrivall’ and consists of two timber framed horses 5m (16ft) tall.   One is a mounted knight, known as Victor, which is a symbol of the victorious Yorkist forces of King Edward IV.  On the opposite side of the roundabout stands the other sculpture, the riderless horse Vanquished, which is a symbol of the beaten Lancastrian forces.  His head is bowed in defeat and exhaustion from the battle.  The sculptures, made by Phil Bews from the Forest of Dean are of green oak, and the work took 2 years to complete.  Local schoolchildren and members of the community were invited to carve poppies on the horses’ legs in remembrance of the centenary of WW1 in 2014.

Both of the horses have lances with pennants which swing in the breeze.  These were made by a local company and donated free.  In fact the local people and business community raised almost all the £65,000 needed for this magnificent sculpture, which rather eerily faces the original battle site.

I took my life in my hands on this busy roundabout to get some photos.  I am looking forward to going back and getting more photos at different times of the year and in different weather conditions, at sunset and in moonlight.  But even in daylight I found the sculptures very impressive and strangely moving.

Cheltenham racecourse ~ off-season

One of several Statues of much loved horses

Driving past Cheltenham Racecourse the other day I noticed that the next Race Meeting is not until 23/24th October.  And, the National Hunt Season proper gets under way on 13/14/15th November. This seems such a long way off I got to wondering what happens there during the ‘Off-season’, so I decided to pop up there this Sunday and find out.  It was a revelation!

In the UK most horse racing is on turf although there are a few all weather tracks.   I guess the ‘going gets tough’ during the summer months when the ground is hard and dry, making it dangerous for thoroughbred racehorses to jump the fences.  Every racecourse is different whether it is for flat racing, National Hunt racing, or point to point.  Few are a regular oval shape and different horses run better on different tracks ~‘horses for courses’, as the saying goes.

Flat racing is run over distances between 5 furlongs (5/8 miles) and 2 miles with no fences to be jumped, while National Hunt racing, as at Cheltenham, is between 2 miles and 4 1/2 miles with challenging obstacles to be jumped.  At Cheltenham these include hurdles, fences and water jumps.  These races are strictly governed and the jumps, although terrifying, are built with safety in mind. Point to Point races on the other hand are much more ‘informal’ and for amateur riders.  I have only watched a couple of point to points and I found them terrifying.  The jumps are horrendous and riders often fall and end up covered in blood!

Cheltenham Racecourse is very special and world famous. The Cheltenham Festival is unmissable for any serious racing fan.  It is held annually in the third week of March around St Patrick’s Day.  The atmosphere is electric and the whole town comes alive.  Race fans come from all over the UK, Southern Ireland and beyond to enjoy the four day meeting.  There is a Championship Race each day, the highlight being the Gold Cup race.  This year the weather was perfect for spectators with early spring sunshine, although the horses may have found the ground a bit hard.

The Gold Cup is a Grade 1 race, run over a distance of 3 miles 2 1/2 furlongs. All the horses carry the same weight in the Gold Cup and the hill to the finish is a test of their stamina and courage.  Famous winners of the Gold Cup include Dawn Run (a mare, ridden by Jonjo O’Neill), Arkle (considered the greatest horse of all time), Golden Miller, Best Mate, Desert Orchid & Kauto Star.  Racegoers, and non-racegoers alike, grow attached to individual horses as they each have their own personality and style.  In National Hunt racing the horses do not have to be thoroughbred, which adds an extra twist to the races.  Of course there are lots of breeders, trainers and stables in the Cotswolds so it is possible to see these beautiful creatures out galloping occasionally which is wonderful.

So what is going on at the racecourse before then?  Well lots of things as I discovered.

There is an amazing building at the racecourse, appropriately called the Centaur (half man/half horse)!  This building seats over 2000 people (4000 standing) and has some beautiful spaces inside including the gorgeous Steeplechasing hall of Fame.  During the ‘off-season’ it hosts music festivals, craft shows, business meetings, seminars, conferences, graduation ceremonies for the local university as well as being a fabulous wedding venue.

Outside the Centaur in the grounds around the racetrack there is lots of activity too as you will see from my photos.  There is a permanent facility for Riding for the Disabled and the racecourse has its own railway station which still has steam trains running.  This is operated by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway GWR and is run mainly by volunteers.  The station, signal box and platform take me right back to my childhood and day trips to the seaside.  But now visitors can steam through the Cotswolds enjoying the scenery.  It is marvellous.

There are some great statues around the racecourse of Gold Cup winners Golden Miller and Arkle, as well as dawn Run, and Best Mate and of course the Centaur.  Some of these were removed while the £45million building work is going on but I did find one or two.  The fabulous new stand and walkway is due to be ready for the 2016 Festival and I must say it was looking great today.

Another permanent feature near the entrance to the racecourse is a veterinary block complete with tackle shop, offices etc.  And, in the car park of this building is a waiting area for emergency vehicles and responders.

Also in the grounds was a temporary ‘big top’.  This beautiful blue and white tent was the circus with a purpose, Circus Starr, a wonderful charity bringing fun and excitement into the lives of disabled and disadvantaged children and their families.  I was so jealous that I didn’t have a ticket as I stood outside and enjoyed the music from Frozen waft out from the big top.  I could hear gasps of pleasure at what I assumed were trapeze artists doing aerial dances to ‘Let it Go’.

Apart from this there were dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, and a young lad riding a motorbike as well as builders creating the new walkway.

Advertised events coming up before the season takes off included;

Sportive’s Cycling Event 15th August

Leap for LINC Charity bungee jump 23rd August

‘Frozen’ Cinema Screening 29th August

 

On The Way

P1090588

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.

 

 

Intricate and Artistic

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Horse Sculpture at Ellenborough park

Intricate Blog

Today I went to a May Bank Holiday Fete in a beautiful Cotswold village.  On the way back I had to pop in to Ellenborough Park, which is a beautiful hotel at the foot of Cleeve Hill near the Cotswold Way.  It is a gorgeous hotel, traditionally built in Cotswold stone.  It dates back to the 16th century and it shows!  It just oozes history.  I have a soft spot for the hotel because my youngest daughter was married there in a most romantic ceremony.

In front of the hotel, facing Cheltenham racecourse, there is a magnificent life-size sculpture ~ of a horse.  It is created from what looks like bronze wire and is very intricate!

I just love wire sculpture, especially natural subjects like horses and hares.  I have added a link to an amazing artist in case you would like to see more. http://www.ruperttill.com/retrospective.html

Cheltenham is famous for horse racing and of course the Cotswold countryside lends itself to lots of equine establishments and pastimes.  In 2011 the centenary of the Racecourse was celebrated with a Horse Parade with a difference.  10 Life size sculptures of horses were created and decorated to reflect their sponsors.  The horses were displayed in prominent places around the town before being auctioned at the racecourse for various charities.

Thousands of pounds were raised for a variety of charities.  Indeed Ellenborough Park raised £4,800 for a local cancer charity.  If you would like to see pictures of all the horses, they are here  http://www.cheltenhamartgallery.org.uk/Docs/horse%20parade%20auction%20leaflet_toprint.pdf

Frozen in Norway

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in Oslo park

Sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in Oslo park

One of the many joys associated with having grandchildren is that you get to watch the most beautiful films at the Cinema, or enjoy Disney videos at home, without feeling silly.
Recently I have been captivated by Frozen which I watched with Ben and Rosie. In the film Elsa the Snow Queen sings ‘Let it Go’, which is one of the songs our choir sings. It really is a most beautiful song, but when the children and their parents sing along together it is truly moving. This weekend we are performing it in a concert at the Tuckwell Open Air Theatre.

The film, Frozen, is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the Snow Queen.  When my daughter, Anna,  was young she played a part in a local production of the fairytale so it has a special place in my heart.  Also, the dramatic landscape of Norway was the inspiration for the setting apparently and I had a wonderful holiday in Norway some years ago.

If you have never been to Norway, I hope this film will inspire you to go. In July 1999 I flew to Oslo then travelled by train across Norway. Trains and boats are really the best way to travel for seeing scenery I find, and in Norway there is so much to see. The countryside was truly spectacular and very rugged with snow-covered mountains, icy glaciers, breathtakingly beautiful fjords and waterfalls, wildflower covered meadows and lakes so still that it was hard to tell what was real and what was a reflection.

Reflections in a still lake

Reflections in a still lake

There is a real port called Arendal in the South of Norway which becomes Arendelle in the film, Frozen. But it is in Bergen that you find the exquisitely preserved old buildings of Bryggen which feature in the film. There is a fish market in Bergen just opposite these ancient timber buildings. I was a bit shocked to find whale meat for sale alongside fabulous salmon.

Shopping for Salmon in Bergen Market

Shopping for Salmon in Bergen Market

Also in the film you will see Stave churches. There are many of these beautifully preserved churches in Norway. They were built mostly of wood during the middle ages. The largest is Heddal near Notodde. It is a beautiful fairytale church which dates back to the 12th century. There are several of these Stave churches around Bergen and we decided to visit the Fantoft Stavkirk on St Olav’s day. I caught a bus with my husband from Bergen and we had a very pleasant journey to the church. As we went to enter the church my husband realised he had left his wallet with all our money, tickets and passports on the bus! Fortunately I had a mobile phone with me and I managed to find the telephone number of the bus company. I rang them and sadly explained our situation. Imagine my delight when they said the driver had found the wallet and was finishing work for the day soon. He offered to drive back to where he had dropped us on his way home and return the wallet to us! He would not take any tip and seemed surprised that we were so overwhelmed with gratitude. Call me an old cynic but I just can’t imagine this happening in the UK.

Stavkirk

Stavkirk

My husband and I intended visiting the church on the way to the house at Troldhaugen where Edvard Grieg lived. I say the house but actually it was like an estate with a very impressive villa which is now a living museum. There was an island where visitors can enjoy free lunchtime concerts of Grieg’s music in the summer months. There is also the cabin where he worked. By the time we got there we had missed the concert and only had time for a rushed visit.

There are several fjords which could be the setting for Arendelle but it is claimed that it is Nærøyfjord, an arm of the Unesco-listed Sognefjord. I can believe that as it is so spectacularly beautiful. We travelled on the famous Flam railway passing huge waterfalls to reach the fjord. Along the way we could hear beautiful operatic singing and we could not work out where it was coming from. The train stopped under a waterfall and from there we could see a woman standing on the very top of the mountain. She was producing that magnificent sound which echoed around the fjord. From there we travelled by boat to one of many little villages dotted around the fjord.

Village along the fjord

Village along the fjord

Also in the film, Frozen, Elsa flees across a glacial landscape which resembles the Folgefonna glacier. It could equally have been the Hardanger Glacier, which we saw, and flew over. It certainly is a bleak and barren place when viewed from the air.

Frozen Norway Norway from the air Hardanger glacier seen from plane

Watching Frozen brought all this back to me so I fished out my photos. Enjoy!

 

 

The Joys of Cornwall

Derelict mine building at Wheal Coates3

Old tin mines stand tall

Telling stories of the past

On Cornish coastline

I recently spent another lovely week in Cornwall. I wanted to be near the sea while still being near Truro for my hubby’s regular dialysis sessions, so I opted for a cottage in St Agnes. St Agnes is a beautiful, unspoilt little town on the North Cornwall coast. It is full of fascinating relics from the days when tin and copper mining was the main industry. It seemed strange to me to see derelict tin mines visible from behind houses and forming the boundary walls of gardens. In fact tin is still produced in St Agnes at the Blue Hills Mine, the only place in the UK that still produces it. St Agnes is an area of outstanding natural beauty and it has been designated a World Heritage Site. I can certainly see why. I just loved the rugged land and seascapes. Even in our state of unfitness we were able to walk some of the coastal path. This leads to sights that can never be appreciated from the road. One of these is Wheal Coates Mine. It is truly amazing when seen from a distance with its three shafts and its spectacular position on the side of the cliffs. In fact the mine goes all the way down to the sea and at high tide you can hear the waves crashing against rocks through a grid in the ruins. It was possible to get into this mine via a large cave at a nearby beach. There is a local legend that says Wheal Coates is haunted by the spirits of the miners who died there. I expect the eerie sounds of the sea account for the legends.
I’ve always been interested in industrial buildings. I guess this is mainly due to my father’s influence as he was a steel man from the age of 13 and he developed in me a passion for ships, bridges and buildings. The other reason could be because of where I grew up. I lived in the Felling, a shipbuilding and mining area in the North of England. I skipped past the railway station and shipyard every day on my way to school and there was a derelict engine house complete with winding gear at the end of our street of 2 up and 2 down back to back miners’ cottages. These were our adventure playgrounds. Children were never allowed to play on the grass or ride bikes in the municipal parks in those days! Parks were for floral displays and grown-ups to walk in and the park warden was fierce.
Being a traditional and romantic sort of person I regret that industrialisation almost destroyed the crafts of blacksmiths, weavers, spinners, millers and grinders. But I find there is great beauty to be found in the derelict buildings, in the machinery that drove the mines and the mills, and in the engines that turned their wheels and moved their goods

Around St Agnes there are beaches, bays and coves with caves where wreckers and smugglers, no doubt, once hid their treasures. We visited a pub reminiscent of Jamaica Inn. The pub is called the Driftwood and it has a fascinating history. It is a 17th century building which in its time has been a warehouse for the tin mines, a ships’ chandlery, and a sail maker’s loft, before becoming a characterful old pub. It is built of Cornish stone and slate and ship’s timbers and spares. Behind one of the fireplaces in the pub there is a tunnel which was uncovered during restoration. It is said that this was the secret escape route for the wreckers and smugglers of the area as it leads all the way to the beach.

The cottage we stayed in was perfect and my joy was complete when my daughter came to stay for a couple of days with my adorable grandson. He just loved the sea and sand, the horses in the paddock and the trampoline in the garden. We took him to Lappa Valley Railway, which is kiddie heaven in my book. Built on the site of yet another ruined mine, there are castles and treehouses and adventure equipment to satisfy any age. There are also 12 steam engines giving rides on trains which Stanley really loved. There is also a boating lake, café, shop and everything you could want for a fun day out. I loved it.
http://www.lappavalley.co.uk/
Sadly it will be another year before I can go away again due to the shortage of holiday dialysis spaces around the country. But until then I have my photos to remind me of the fun we had and the beauty of Cornwall. Enjoy!

All of a Flutter with Real Confetti

confetti fields 17

We took a drive out on Friday to a lovely part of the Cotswolds, the village of Wick near Pershore. I was keen to see the fields of Delphiniums at Wick while the weather was good.
Acres of delphiniums are grown by Charles Hudson on the Wyke manor Estate, which are dried and sold as natural confetti for the Real Confetti Company. Apparently delphiniums, apart from growing in a range of vibrant colours, keep their colour indefinitely once they are dried, while rose petals go brown, carnations go black and marigolds shrivel up. This makes delphiniums perfect for confetti. Being totally natural, they biodegrade and don’t litter up churchyards and wedding venues, many of which have banned paper confetti for this reason.  I was told that when Prince Charles and Camilla came out from their wedding the young royals, William, Harry, Zara and others threw real confetti from Wick over the happy couple.
The village of Wick is a delight to behold. It is really ancient and retains every bit of its character. It must be the quintessential English village with its old church, thatched cottages and beautiful manor house.
The original manor was called Wyke Manor, using the ancient spelling, and it had a very long and illustrious history. It was owned by John Nevill, 3rd Lord Latimer, involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1538. Upon his death in 1543, he willed the manor to his widow Catherine Parr. Catherine later married King Henry VIII (28 June 1491 – 28 January 1547) as his sixth and last wife in July of 1543. She was 31 years old and he was 52. The marriage didn’t last long as Henry died in 1547 so Catherine outlived him. A small piece of Catherine has returned to the Manor recently as a lock of her hair came up for auction. The hair is mounted in an oval frame on ink-inscribed paper which states “Hair of Queen Catherine Parr, Last Consort of Henry, the night she died September 5th 1548 was in the Chapel of Sudeley Castle”. The current owner of the manor, Charles Hudson, paid £2,160 for the hair, in order to return it to the manor.
Catherine Parr's Hair
After Catherine died, the estate passed to Anthony Babington, who was later executed for treason after plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I! It then passed to Sir Walter Raleigh, who was also executed.
The Hudson family have owned the Wyke manor Estate since the 1760s and the current owner is Charles Hudson and his wife, the writer Cressida Connolly. I was fascinated to learn that Cressida is an authority on Ladybird Books, which I have always rated highly.

I have recently been told that the house which is now on the Wyke Manor Estate was partially rebuilt in the 1920s in the Elizabethan style.  I am grateful to Paul, a resident of Wick, for this update.

The people of Wick that I met were absolutely lovely and pointed me in the direction of the shop at the back of the manor house. This is not like any shop I have ever seen before. It is literally a part of the stable block and there are children’s bikes scattered all over the yard. Inside the ‘shop’ a lovely young lady, who must have the best job and workplace in the world, was boxing up exquisite dried petals into pretty boxes. Along one wall is a vast array of open boxes each containing different coloured dried petals. The smell and colour and atmosphere is hypnotic. I felt as if I had walked into a fairytale. Honestly, if you get the chance you just have to go along and experience it.
Well I spent so long soaking up the atmosphere that it was getting decidedly overcast by the time I headed off to the actual confetti fields. But I rushed to get as many photos as I could before the light failed, the heavens opened and I got soaked! It was definitely worth it though. Enjoy my photos.