Saturday, October 24, 2015

High Five.......

I decided to reminisce on our trip by picking my top 5 sights or experiences from the British Isles.

Leaving aside the visits to family and friends, (that are always the best part of our trips), I came up with the following list:

Number 5 - London's Pride

Some of you may have heard of London, a small metropolis in the south of England. London is known to the international traveller and connoisseur for several reasons, one as being the country residence of a strange Germano-Greek, disfunctional family, who are accustomed to the locals worshipping them and singing anthems entreating god to save them. Funnily enough, our Prime Minister, the beloved John Key, (long may he rule in magnificent splendour), spends a fair part of his time kissing their nether regions and grovelling obsequiously.

In London, you can eat like a king if you can afford it but more commonly, the English feast on fried potatoes, fish or fish alternative, (i.e. pies with gravy).

Pies with fried potatoes on the one plate and mashed potatoes on the other. Who really cares as long as they're spuds? Since the proliferation of reality TV chef programmes, food like this is becoming hard to find. I expect that this cafe will be awarded a Michelin star in the near future, largely because of its rarity value.

More proof of the healthy eating that abounds in this island, on this low-cal menu. Don't be fooled by the "Beef Burger and Salad" though, as the salad was merely a lettuce leaf on the burger bun.

Other strange phenomena can also be sighted in London, such as this pink garbed contortionist, spotted in a London backstreet gym!

Whether she's beseeching the lord or praying to Mecca we'll never know, (although right now she's threatening to disembowel me).

Number 4 - The Pilling Pig

This well known tourist attraction is located at Pilling, near Blackpool in Lancashire. Tens of people from all over the village visit this technological marvel every year and stare in awe at the latest development in low-speed rail.
This little engine, (which is a real Tank Engine, unlike Thomas), used to roam the railway track between Knott End and Garstang, in the days of yore. It's called the Pilling Pig because its whistle was reminiscent of the noise a pig makes when its throat is being cut!

The trains around this part of the world breed! Here's the proof - the Pilling Piglet.

Number 3 - English Wildlife

Contrary to the general opinion that most English wildlife is to be found around and inside the country's football grounds and public houses, there are some wild and dangerous beasties lurking in stream and hedgerows throughout the land.
Make the slightest move towards these vicious ducklings and they will mob you until you feed them half a loaf. No bread? Well be prepared to be pecked to death!
A Mute Swan! These creatures are not actually mute, so why they are so named? I don't know. It is commonly said that a blow from a swan's wing could break your leg or even kill a child. Unfortunately, there were no children around to test the theory.

 The "Killer Sheep of Shap", roaming wild on Shap Moor. Those of you who think that these aren't dangerous haven't been watching enough Monty Python movies.

Number 2 - Carnival Time

No, not the Notting Hill Carnival but a real one that has been held for centuries in Carnforth, (well since the 1960's anyway). The purpose of this carnival is to provide annual evidence that village idiots still abound. Some people had advanced a theory, that since I left Carnforth in the 1960's, the village had lost its idiot, never to be replaced. 
However, the photographic evidence gives plenty of proof that the supply of candidates, (for village idiot), is unlimited, for how else can you explain that the whole village took time out for a carnival of such stupefying ordinariness.
The "Sports Queen" with a wave that would do QE II justice. Her beauty was somewhat overshadowed by the attendants in high-viz jackets though! For a brief moment, I thought that she was going to be mobbed by the adoring audience, but British restraint and good manners took over at the very last moment.
This is a very tricky one, (something like where's Wally), but there is one person on this float not in fancy dress! I'm not a hundred percent sure but I think it's the goggle-eyed one on the extreme left of the float.
 And finally, proof, (if you needed it), that the Greenlands continue their village idiot connections.

 Number 1 - In an English Country Garden

“Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made By singing - 'Oh how beautiful!' and sitting in the shade". - Rudyard Kipling.

Whenever you want a quintessentially English quote, there's always good old Rudyard!
The summer flowers and trees were typically lush and abundant.

On Crags!
In Hedgerows
And even in gardens.
 Or even in a Coronation Street garden, (complete with peeping tom)!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Last Post - super Salisbury....

Our last stop on the way to deliver our motorhome to the docks at Southampton was in Salisbury, another old cathedral town on the edge of Salisbury plain, which is of course best known for Stonehenge.

We made a feeble attempt to visit Stonehenge but lost interest when we saw the entrance prices. You used to be able to drive past and get a free view of the site. We now have rampant commercialism, which in the present day UK, is one of the new religions. So the site is now hidden from casual view, the old road is blocked, and to visit the monument you have to first get a mortgage and then hand it over to the Stonehenge gatekeepers. Only then are you transported to within eyeshot of the mighty megaliths.

So having successfully not seen Stonehenge, we made the short drive to Salisbury and were amply rewarded by what was definitely the most attractive small town we visited in the UK. Salisbury claims to be a medieval town and while there were certainly reasonable numbers of medieval buildings still standing, they certainly weren't as profuse as in some of the French towns such as Troyes. However, it was still very pleasing on the eye.

This building on the main street, (as well as being ornately timbered, decorated with coats of arms and stained glass),  has the words "Ye Halle of Loud Halle" inscribed across the bottom beam and we spent a few minutes trying to work out what this could mean. Believe it or not, the building is now the front part of the Odeon Cinema, so we went in and asked the guys on the desk what the slogan meant. They didn't know but took the option of phoning a friend, (their boss) who came down to tell us that it does in fact translate as "The Hall of Lord Hall" who built it in 1429 and lived there. Lord Hall(e) was 4 times Mayor of Salisbury.

We were so impressed by the building that we decided to go to the flicks while we were there. "The Martian" was just starting so in we went, just in time to enjoy about 45 minutes of adverts, that in retrospect were better than the movie itself.
Just in case you are thinking of going to see the Martian, our advice would be - don't. People are always being told that to enjoy fiction you need to "suspend disbelief" but for this movie, you need to suspend all senses and thinking processes.
It was scientifically, emotionally, historically, (and any other word you can think of ending in "ally"), Crap, (note the capital C). And on top of all the crap, were huge layers of schmalz, (done, as only the Americans can do it).

So, to come back to tales of Salisbury. I had a major triumph when I bought a jumper in TK Max and discovered that they had undercharged me by 20 quid. I was so happy, I went out and gave the "Big Issue" seller 3 quid for a magazine. Always share your good fortune.

This structure was very old but didn't seem to have any function or connection with anything else in the town. It was by the side of a main street and quite a few people used it as a bus shelter. We asked but no-one knew what its original purpose was.

This was a nice old building and the beams, roofs and chimneys were lobsided and skewed all over the place. Presumably it was level when it was built.

The area around the cathedral is walled and gated, (you can see the gate folded away at the right). One of the gates (not this one) had a sign attached stating that the gates would be closed and locked at 1100 pm, so don't be late whatever you do.
Once through the gates the cathedral stands in all its glory. The weather that we have had during our travels has been remarkably good and continued to be so here. (Only 3 wet days in 4 months - can't be bad).
Salisbury cathedral has the highest medieval steeple in Europe at just over 400 feet. There are some rival claimants but these were steeples that were added later, to existing medieval buildings.
I always look for quirky items as we travel around and here's another -
 A plaque commemorating a Sally Army bandsman who happened to blow his trumpet in Salisbury. Commemorating the centenary of his "Promotion to Glory" !!
This mechanism is the cathedral's clock. It works using a system of ropes kept in tension using a system of counterweights made of stone. There are no hands or dial on the clock but the mechanism is connected to a bell high up in the ceiling which chimes the hours. The clock's claim to fame is that it is the oldest known working clock in the world and was first installed in about 1380.
The cathedral font is also an unusual structure. About 4 metres across and a metre deep, it's of a size where both preacher and baby could go for full immersion.

 The inscription on this side is a bit spooky - "I have called you by name - you are mine".
One of the tombs in the cathedral was also a bit spooky. Usually the tombs try to portray the dead as they were in their prime and handsome or pretty as the case may be.
 This one is from the "tell it like it is" school of graveyard sculptors!

Another thing that I really liked about this cathedral was the amount of graffiti. It's pretty normal to find a bit of graffiti in the choir stalls, cos what else have the choirboys got to do when they're not being molested?
However, the graffiti was simply everywhere in Salisbury cathedral.
Neatly carved initials on the side of one of the tombs. I would love to know who W.G. 1606 was and what became of him. Probably thrashed to death by the Archbishop when they discovered his graffiti carving.
And there's no point having a dog to guard your tomb if he can't keep the graffiti artists off.
This is how Lord and Lady Muck were buried in the 17th century. You can be as flash as you like guys but you're still dead!
The cathedral also has a very complete cloister, (one side, above), that encloses 4 sides of a garden. In an antechamber off the cloisters, the cathedral keeps one of the 4 remaining copies of the Magna Carta and it was on display while we were there. That's 2 of the 4, that we've stumbled upon during this trip. There was a charming woman who explained the intricacies of the Carta to us and included a few interesting details about King John. Photos were not allowed and with the aforesaid woman guarding the charter, I couldn't sneak one. One peculiarity of the Salisbury copy of the Magna carta is that the image of a face has developed in the sheepskin that the Charter is written on! Very spooky indeed.
I'll end this post with a look back down the nave of the cathedral from the choir.
Someone, (and I can't remember who), asked me during our journeys, if I liked cathedrals and churches. They'd obviously read some of these posts. I hadn't really thought about this question but the short answer is yes, I really do like them. In almost every place that we visited, the local churches in town and country throughout Europe, gave us a snapshot across the centuries and provided an absolute wealth of info and insight into the social, political and ecclesiastical processes that have applied over hundreds of years. It will be interesting to see where a casual visitor might go to find similar information a thousand years from now.
After we said goodbye to the cathedral -
We wandered past the Salisbury school that is connected to the cathedral. Every boy, (it was lunchtime and they were being allowed out for lunch), was wearing a tailored suit, collar and tie. These were boys aged from 14-17 and it was obvious that they were being groomed, (literally), to take their place at the top of society. Oiks don't wear suits don't cha know? Just another demonstration of the English class system in action.
The next morning we ended our Odyssey and left our motorhome at the Southampton docks. Iris had suddenly decided that we couldn't leave her without a name. She was therefore christened "Milly", just too late to drive her down the aisle and through the font at the cathedral.
 It only remained to catch the train to London, have dinner with family and friends on Friday evening and say our fond goodbyes. The next day it was Heathrow and NZ or bust.

 What better way to prepare for a 24 hour flight, than a large Pina Colada, courtesy of Air NZ?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Crazy Town.....

Or as others know it - Glastonbury - a place of pilgrimage since the earliest christian times.

Christian legend dictates, that Jesus's (so-called) uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, came to Britain after the crucifixion some 2,000 years ago, bearing the Holy Grail - the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, or so the legend goes. I have always had doubts about the holy grail since even Monty Python couldn't find it.

Joseph of Arimathea became notorious in Glastonbury for thrusting his staff into Wearyall Hill, just below the top of Glastonbury Tor.
Lo and behold, the next day, his staff had grown into a thorn bush, (as you would expect), although Joe was no doubt a little pissed off that his best staff was ruined.

Roundheads were said to have felled the original thorn tree during the English Civil War. However, locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding it in secret locations around Glastonbury. The locations were apparently so secret that the roots couldn't be found until after the second World War when the thorn roots were then replanted on the Tor in 1951, (a mere 300 years after the original was destroyed). The new thorn was hacked down by vandals a couple of years ago, to much wailing and gnashing of teeth and articles in the Daily Mail! 
Other cuttings had also been taken though, grown and placed around the town - including in the famous Glastonbury Abbey, where two of these thorn trees survive now.

There are also a couple of natural springs, one of which, the Chalice Well, is also associated with Joseph of Arimathea, who, when he wasn't growing thorn bushes, dipped the holy grail, (and about the same time managed to lose it), into the well and caused the waters to run red and so resemble Christ's blood!!! By this time Joe must have been feeling a bit like King Midas, except that everything he touched turned to crap, rather than Gold.

This miracle of the spring of course provided more inspiration for the locals, who presumably hadn't noticed the spring's natural red colour before, but they understood a  marketing opportunity when they saw one - its not everywhere you can buy a pint of Christ's blood. And of course the spring is now holy, miracles occur regularly, and people from all over the shop, queue up to guzzle it down or splash around in it.

These aqueous habits used to be restricted to those of the christian faith but all sorts now join in and there are buddhists, druids and new age people of all sorts of inclination, who take inspiration from Glastonbury's natural or unnatural wonders and now get in on the scams that form various "businesses" in and around the town.
The best I can say, is that these many and varied enterprises provide a bit of harmless colour to the town. The worst, is that they may shamelessly exploit the gullibility of the vulnerable.

The main street, full of shops selling lots of "stuff" relating to alternative cures, lifestyles, materials, philosophies and literature. If you have a weird belief of any sort, you'll find something to buy here.

There were some nice people on the streets though, and the general rule appeared to be, that the weirder the dress or the person's appearance, the nicer they seemed.  One happy soul with dreads and rasta dress greeted us with a big smile and a "Hi, how are you, alright"? "Got any weed?" At this point, I should have mentioned that Glastonbury was famous for planting stuff in the ground and it being grown by the time you wake up next day, but we had a chuckle and left him to it.

After having lunch in a small cafe, where the proprietor lectured Iris about the correct way to make a "Flat White", (i.e the way he made it), we went on to the Abbey.

The Abbey has been in existence since the dark ages and the first stone church was built in the early 8th century. This was destroyed by fire in 1184 and the medieval Abbey was then built. It was at this time, that the connection with Joseph of Arimathea appears to have been discovered, (i.e. invented), together with connections with King Arthur who mysteriously and suddenly was determined to have been buried in the old Abbey. A small plaque now marks his ex-grave, (as King Edward I had him transferred to a fancier grave, that was destroyed together with most of the abbey later). Arthur's re-interment was accompanied by much pomp and ceremony and the King and Queen  attended..

The Abbey was taken over by Henry VIII's men during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The Abbot at the time was fairly unhappy about having to surrender his enormous sinecure and refused to do so. Silly man! Henry's men tried him for treason and he was hanged, drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor, (the hill behind the town). After the dissolution, the Abbey was gradually dismantled, demolished and plundered in various ways. The only intact building that survived was the cookhouse.

The Abbot's Cookhouse.

The Tor. We camped just over the other side but couldn't find the energy to climb it.

The Abbey ruins are located in a large park of about 300 acres in the centre of the town and although few intact buildings remain, it was still possible to get an idea of the scale of the original buildings. The main Abbey was about 100 metres long and 50 metres wide and was the richest church in the land, after Westminster Abbey.

The picture shows how the Abbey stretches right up to the top of the grass and also continued behind us in the Lady Chapel.

This part of the Abbey was known as the Lady Chapel that was originally attached to the main Abbey. This chapel was behind where we took the previous photo. The walls of this chapel are still pretty much intact and have some remains of medieval colour visible. In the crypt at the bottom, (the bridge is at the original floor level with the crypt below), we saw a well that was supplied with water from the Chalice Well. This was obviously to save the Abbot having a 200 metre walk to get his daily dose of holy water.

What the chapel used to look like in its heyday.

The grounds of the Abbey are studded with mature trees and in keeping with the spirit of the town you can adopt a tree should you wish to.

This tree diagram shows the locations of the various trees, plus a contact number, should you be foolish enough inspired by your visit enough to adopt a tree. I don't think there are the same kinds of stringent rules on tree adoption as human adoption, although you may have to provide some sort of evidence of being unable to think rationally, to qualify as an adoptive parent of your selected tree. Its probably another miracle that Prince Charles hasn't adopted a couple of dozen.

There is one surviving church on the Abbey site and it is a small chapel dedicated to Saint Patrick.

The tiny church of St Patrick

With a pic of the man himself, complete with Irish wolfhound.

There was a book in the chapel containing the names of people who had recently had funeral ceremonies at the church. I'm not sure if someone called Odin should have received a christian burial.

Charlie "Odin"Amergin Ellick lived, died and is buried in these parts.
The visit to Glastonbury Town over, we returned to camp and planned our next days. Salisbury got the nod and the following morning, away we went. See our next gripping episode coming soon........

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Going to the Baths....

After frolicking in Oxford for a couple of days we decided to head for Bath. On the way through, we stopped at one of the region's great monuments, at Avebury.

The site at Avebury has a large "Henge", (a ditch and rampart), with a large stone circle, (over300 metres in diameter), enclosing two smaller stone circles.

Avebury has been adopted as a sacred site by many of the adherents of  recent quasi-religions such as Druids, Wicca and assorted heathens. These nutters people view the monument as a "living temple", which they associate with their ancestors, various assorted spirits of fhe place and strange astronomical and astrological theories that defy belief.
Typically, they hold frequent pagan rites at the site that are performed publicly and attract attention, particularly on major days of pagan celebration such as at the summer and winter solstices.

We watched the people in this pic performing a strange rock hugging, stroking and group hugging ceremony that consisted of mauling the rock and resting foreheads against the slab and muttering incantations, (for quite some time). They then formed something like a rugby scrum  minus the ball. The ceremony might have been more efficaceous if they had banged their heads against the rock or introduced a ball to the proceedings, (imo, anyway).

These two large stones were not part of the circles and were among several that were dotted about within various parts of the circle. What were they? We'll never know, but there are some looney theories about.

One of the inner stone circles.

The Red Lion with a nice new thatched roof. The pub is inside the main circle. The stones on the right are part of one of the inner circles.

This gives you a good idea of  the size of the henge. If you consider that it was dug out using reindeer antlers and wooden implements it gives some idea of the task.

After leaving Avebury we continued on to Bath, where we had a good campsite, close to the town and 2 pubs. The weather continued to be summery and was still warm enough at dinnertime to be sitting in one of the pub gardens.

The next morning we sobered up and went into the city to see the sights. The centre is very Georgian and most recent buildings have followed the same Georgian style and in doing so, have preserved the 18th century feel of the town.

The first site of any note was the Bath Abbey that dominates a square in the centre of the town.

The Abbey is right next to the hot springs that that were encompassed by the Roman baths in the 1st to 3rd century AD. Before this, the springs were part of a site dedicated to a Britannic Goddess - Sulis.

The Roman remains at the present site were largely buried until they were excavated in the 19th  century and renovated to some extent. The spring appears in what is called the "sacred pool" and then flows through the series of baths before departing to the local sewers.
About a million litres of water flow out of the spring each day and apparently take about 10,000 years to reach the spring after falling as rainwater on distant hills.

Most of the archaeology that has been uncovered and preserved is about 5 metres below the present ground or street level. How does this happen? Why is something that was at ground level 2000 years ago underground now? There are various suggestions as to how this occurs but they don't seem to be too plausible.

The main bath, with the Abbey in the background. The outside street level is now at the level of the balcony in this photo. The "Roman" statues are modern day reconstructions.

One of the customs associated with springs everywhere, is to throw coins or other offerings in to the waters, and make a wish or a promise. This has been happening for at least 3000 years at this spring and its associated waterways. A huge variety of these objects has been recovered that ranges from weapons, various possessions, money and other objects.

One interesting custom at Bath, was for people to inscribe curses onto small lead plates and then throw these into the spring, hoping no doubt, that the Goddess would take revenge on their behalf. There were several examples of these curse plates on display, including a very special one, (with apologies to Jose Mourinho).

The lead tablet of this curse was on display, but was unreadable. However, this poster had a blow-up, pic of the lead tablet and an explanation of what it is. I was very annoyed that it refers to "British Celtic", as there was no such thing as "Celtic" associated with British tribes until recently, when the usage has become fashionable.

I think it is very appropriate though, that the only piece of old Britannic language ever discovered, should a) be a curse, and b) be indecipherable! Who knows though, the romano-british version of the Rosetta Stone might be discovered at any moment and we will all re-discover our ancient curse heritage.

In the cellars beneath the baths we could see the old drainage systems and the sewers taking the water away. The iron in the water has led to the reddish colour of the deposits on the rock.

One of the final features as you complete the visit through the Baths is an opportunity to "take the waters". A constantly flowing spigot and paper cups is positioned that delivers the spring water for tasting. It tasted a bit sulphurous but wasn't too bad. I don't think it would sell like Evian Water though.

After leaving the baths, we visited the Abbey next door. The building is very impressive both externally and internally. It is about 500 years old and was restored recently after WWII bomb damage.

The Nave of the Abbey.

A closer view of the main window with 63? depictions of episodes in the life of Brian Christ.

Apart from the general churchiness, the interior history as evidenced by the tombstones, plaques and various memorials was pretty boring. There was nobody of any real historical note, (i.e. nobody that I'd heard of).
Well, not quite true. The first Governor of New South Wales, (Phillips) was buried here and this somehow merited an Australian Flag on the wall. (He is the one who Phillip Island is named after).
I got briefly excited when I saw a memorial plaque to an "Admiral Saumarez", as I thought this might have been Nelson's pal. However, this Saumarez was born in 1791 and would have only been 14 at the time of Trafalgar, so that ruled him out.

Finally, a picture from the bath level in the main Baths. The 3 people, in the upper left of this shot, were about to hurl themselves in a simultaneous back-flip, into the Bath. (OK, they weren't really but it would have been great to see)!