Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting there, Part 9 - Canterbury, England - May 31, 2011

The next port that we stopped at was Dover and the plan had been to meet Michelle and Nick there, clump around town for a while and then have a life shortening Fish and Chip lunch. We had visited Dover fairly recently finding not much of interest and Nick, who had been stationed there at one time, couldn't come up with any fresh delights either. So, pleasant surprise, we were scooped up and taken to Canterbury, about fifteen miles inland.
Canterbury is an historic English cathedral city in the county of Kent and lies on the River Stour. After the Kingdom of Kent's conversion to Christianity in 597CE, St Augustine founded an episcopal see in the city and became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, a position that now heads the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Thomas Becket's murder at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170CE led to the cathedral becoming a place of pilgrimage for Christians worldwide. It was this pilgrimage that provided the theme for Geoffery Chaucer's 14th-century literary classic The Canterbury Tales.
For more pictures around this historic city, click here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting there, Part 8 - Cherbourg, France - May 30, 2011

Next stop on the cruise was Cherbourg-Octeville in the Manche department of Normandy. With a population of a little over 40,000 the area is largely dependent on the port operations and a French Navy arsenal.
The Cotentin Peninsula, with current day Cherbourg at its head, was first conquered by the Vikings and later, during the Seven Years' War, briefly occupied by a British force in 1758. Napoleon had the harbour fortified to prevent further British incursions although the works that began in 1784 were not completed until long after Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo. Cherbourg was also the first, and as it turned out, the only stop that the Titanic ever made after it left Southampton, England in April 1912.
In WWII, the Battle of Cherbourg was fought following the Normandy Invasion in June 1944 and ended with the capture of the city on 30 June. We had visited Cherbourg previously in our camper-van and limited this visit to a cursory stroll around the main features. More pictures here.

Getting there, Part 7 - Liverpool, England - May 28, 2011

Still wending our way eastward towards Rotterdam in Holland, we had now reached the shores of England or at least the seven miles of docks at Liverpool, birth place of the Beatles. From the time that we lived in England our memories of Liverpool were of dock strikes, industrial action in car plants hastening the demise of the British auto industry and a general 19th century aura of dreary and depressed neighborhoods housing folk who worked in Dickensian gloom. In short we had low expectations.
How wrong we were! Despite a cool, gray day with occasional rain we thoroughly enjoyed a lengthy trek around this exciting metropolis. Modernization and reclamation of the dock area along with an eclectic profusion of striking architecture have resulted in a vibrant and bustling city with few reminders of the drab times of yesteryear.

Liverpool was granted borough status in 1207, and the original seven streets of the settlement can still be identified within the "commercial district". In 2006 Liverpool was visited by 625,000 international visitors alone, making it the fourth most visited city in the United Kingdom and the ninety-first most visited on earth.
Hope Street connects Liverpool's two cathedrals; Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral as well as being home to a large part of the University of Liverpool's main campus.
Liverpool is one of the few cities in the world where ocean going liners can berth in the city center, providing a spectacular addition to the waterfront skyline.

For more pictures of this vibrant city, click here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Getting there, Part 6 - Dublin, Ireland - May 27, 2011

In 2010, eighty-six cruise ships visited Dublin, smaller vessels coming up the river Liffey to dock close to the city, larger vessels like the Rotterdam berthing at Alexandra Quay, a mile or so down river. Alexandra Quay is now Ireland's largest port and handles approximately two-thirds of the country's imports and exports. The original medieval port, close to Christ Church Cathedral in the city center slowly lost impetus with the transition to containerization and larger ships in the late 20th century.
Roll-on/roll-off ferries run regularly across the Irish Sea to Holyhead in Wales and Liverpool in England, with the largest car ferry in the world, the MV Ulysses, carrying up to 2000 passengers each trip on the Holyhead route.
Famous as the birthplace both of Guinness Stout and Irish Whiskey, Dublin, with its population of over half a million is both the capital and the largest city of Ireland although it did little to impress us. The regional unemployment rate is almost 15% and Dublin itself is set to break 14%. Combined with the country's recent bankruptcy and bail-out by the EU, the economy is at a low ebb with many vacant retail spaces and few signs of prosperity anywhere around the city center.
Some views about town are here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting there, Part 5 - Cobh, Ireland - May 26, 2011

Cobh, pronounced Cove, actually sits on Great Island in Cork Harbor, one of the largest natural harbors in the world. The largest island in the harbor, Great Island has a population of about 10,000 which includes the town of Cobh with its man made harbor large enough for smaller cruise ships. Available excursions, organized with the cruise lines, include Cork, Blarney Castle, Waterford, Killarney and other local attractions. We chose to stay in town which itself has been witness to much history.
For a start, Cobh was the Titanic's last port of call on its fatal maiden voyage in 1912 and, just a few years later during WWI, the Germans sunk the Lusitania off of its shore. Downtown, just a few block from where the Rotterdam was moored, are memorials marking these events.
Cobh was also the embarkation point for 2-1/2 million Irish citizens emigrating to the United States or Australia. Irish immigration to the US in both the 17th and 18th centuries was around 100,000 and then, as first canal building and then railroad construction produced huge demands for labor in the 19th century, the numbers soared into the millions. The first immigrants processed at Ellis Island started their journey to a new life from Cobh.
Our day was cool, blustery and sometimes wet but interesting nonetheless. See here for pictures.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Getting there, Part 4, The Sugar Rush - May 28, 2011

On the last night of our divinely leisurely trip to Rotterdam on the Rotterdam, a special event was staged - Dessert Extravaganza! Dozens and dozens of creative cakes, pastries, canapes, sundaes, pies, fruits, custards, puddings all augmented by chocolate fountains, whipped cream, ice cream - you name it and it was probably there.
Believe it or not, we actually passed this event up although we did stop by earlier in the evening to witness the set up. Having been spoiled for more than two weeks in the restaurants of Holland America we knew we were going to have our work cut out over the next couple of weeks trying to get ourselves back up to speed for our walkabouts, and a visit to this orgy of confection would have made matters just that much worse! Here are some peeks at the pleasures we forwent.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Getting there, Part 3 - May 18, 2011

In 1972, Ted Arison, an Israeli-American entrepreneur bought the retired Canadian Ocean Liner, Empress of Canada, renamed it Mardi Gras and thus was born Carnival Cruise Lines. After a money-losing start the operation found its mark, added a couple more ships, went public in 1987 and never looked back.
Carnival is now the largest cruise operator in the world comprising eleven major brands, about 100 ships and more than 160,000 berths. Subsidiaries include Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Line. The combined brands of Carnival Corporation control more than half of the total worldwide cruise market.
Check out these pictures to see where the 2,000 gallons of milk, 15,000 pounds of beef and 26 tons of vegetables actually go.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Getting there, Part 2 - May 16, 2011

There has been an SS Rotterdam in the Holland America Line since 1872 when the first, rigged for both steam and sail, entered service. Fourteen years later a shiny new SS Rotterdam replaced the original but this one too was sold off eleven years later to make way for number three in 1897. This third version in turn was sold in 1906 to another line and was ultimately sunk by a German U-Boat in 1918.
Its replacement, the fourth SS Rotterdam, was commissioned in 1908 and served until WWII before being scrapped in 1940.
There was then a hiatus until 1958 when Rotterdam the fifth sailed onto the scene - still as an SS (Steam Ship). Number five went on to roam the oceans of the world for almost forty years before being retired to make way for number six in 1997. This latest in the line was the MS (Motor Ship) Rotterdam which quickly became our favorite boat ever. More snaps are right here.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Europe 2011, Getting there Part I - May 15, 2011

Most of our trips to Europe in recent years have been by air. Our little European RV is stored in Holland so we usually fly into Amsterdam, catch a ride to the storage facility, fire up the RV, perform a major grocery shop, drive to a campsite and collapse. The dark side of this arrangement is the timing. Leaving home around noon the first leg is a puddle-jumper to an international airport. A wait of several hours and then, usually around six or seven in the evening, the big flight is ready to go. Nine hours later, around 3:00AM at home, we are expelled into the Dutch morning. It is about 9:00AM - the start of a new day. Of course, in theory, we should sleep like babes on the airplane and arrive refreshed. In practice, that just doesn't happen whether flying steerage or business class - we've tried them all. So this year, we tried something different - boating...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

End of the line... - September 26, 2010

We were now at the end of our six week jaunt around southern England and our last campsite was in Horam, East sussex. Our London based daughter and her husband visited with us while we were in the area and, among other things, we all enjoyed dinner at the Star Inn in Waldron on our last evening. 
Although Horam is in an official AONB it has an air of neglect and decay, possibly as a long term effect of not enjoying convenient rail service to London. With around 2,500 inhabitants, its most vigorous institution appears to be the pub and even that looks to hanging by a thread. The local railway connection was closed some time ago and is now the Cuckoo Trail footpath through the village. Stripping out a rail connection may have been a boon for the quiet life half a century ago but rural bedroom communities, clustered around remaining rail lines that have since been electrified, have emerged as major growth drivers. Commercial centers, containing big box retail outlets are drawn to such burgeoning communities, in turn spurring their growth and further impoverishing backwater towns like Horam. See here for more pictures.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Brighton and Rottingdean, East Sussex, England - September 19, 2010

Brighton (and Hove)
Brighton is the major part of the city of Brighton and Hove on the south coast of Great Britain. Although Brighthelmstone was recorded in the Domesday Book by 1086, Brighton really came into its own as a sea-bathing health resort during the 18th century and became a destination for day-trippers from London after the railway arrived in 1841. By 1961, the population had soared in excess of 160,000.
In 1514 Brighthelmstone was torched by French raiders leaving only part of St Nicholas Church standing along with the street layout of the area now known as "The Lanes". By 1780, development of the Georgian terraces had started and the fishing village became the fashionable resort of Brighton.
Growth was further spurred by the Prince Regent - later to become King George IV - who constructed the Royal Pavilion during the early part of his Regency. The population grew from 7,000 in 1801 to around 120,000 by 1901 and the Victorian era witnessed many attractions such as the Grand Hotel in 1864, the West Pier in 1866 and the Palace Pier in 1899. The world's oldest operating electric railway, Volk's Electric Railway created in 1883, runs along the inland edge of the beach
Brighton is among the least religious places in the UK according to the 2001 census in which 27% professed no religion, almost double the national average of 15 per cent. Brighton is also well known for having a substantial LGBT community, estimated at one in three of the population, and is often referred to as "the gay capital of Britain".
"The Lanes" form a retail, leisure and residential area near the seafront, characterized by narrow alleyways following the street pattern of the original fishing village. The Lanes contain predominantly clothing stores, jewellers, antique shops, restaurants and pubs.
Rottingdean is a coastal village east of Brighton and technically within the city of Brighton and Hove. The name is derived from Old English for 'valley of the people associated with Rota'. Rottingdean is in a dry, steep sided valley that runs down to the English Channel and has approximately 2,500 inhabitants. A farming community for most of its history, in the late 18th century it began to attract leisured visitors wanting a more civilized alternative to Brighton. Some well known individuals made it their home, including Rudyard Kipling. Most histories of Rottingdean mention that its inhabitants were involved in smuggling, especially in the 18th century when the tax structure made it highly profitable.
More pictures of these locations are here.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bournemouth and Poole - September 18, 2010

While in Wimbourne, we discovered that we could buy a day pass on the buses and travel anywhere we pleased. So, bright and early next morning, we cycled into town and boarded a nice shiny bus and took a trip to the seaside!
Today, Bournemouth is a large coastal resort town in the county of Dorset with a population of about 160,000 and, in a 2007 survey, it was ranked the happiest place in Britain, with 82% of respondants reporting that they were happy with their lives.
Until 1812, what is now Bournemouth was remote, barren heathland at the mouth of the Bourne River with zero inhabitants. The first residents were a retired army officer, Lewis Tregonwell and his wife, who moved into their new home built on land he had purchased. He began populating the rest of his land with small villas for holiday rentals. Tregonwell planted hundreds of Pine trees to provide a sheltered walk to the beach which later became Invalids Walk. When he died twenty years later, Bournemouth was established as a small community.
The Town Hall was built in the Victorian period as a hotel for visitors to the town after the city's growth accelerated following the arrival of the railway and Bournemouth became a recognized town in 1870. Originally part of Hampshire county, Bournemouth was "moved" to Dorset in 1974. Like the rest of Dorset, more than 90% of Bournemouth's workforce is employed in the service sector. Tourism is a crucial industry generating more almost 3/4 billion dollars each year.
Poole is a large coastal town and seaport in the county of Dorset, on the south coast of England about four miles west of Bournemouth. It is home to almost 140,000 people.
People have been living around here since before the Iron Age and the earliest record of the town’s name is from the 12th century as the port grew around the wool trade. In later centuries Poole forged trade links with North America and, at its peak in the 18th century, was one of the busiest ports in Britain.
During World War II, Poole was the third largest embarkation point for D-Day landings in France and afterwards served as a base for supplies to the allied forces. Eighty-one landing craft containing American troops from the 29th Infantry Division and the U.S. Army Rangers departed Poole Harbour for Omaha Beach.
During the 1970s, Poole’s permissive regional planning policies attracted service businesses from London and the area economy moved from manufacturing to the service sector with tourism high on the list.
Poole Quay at the south of town centre is lined with a mixture of traditional public houses, redeveloped warehouses, modern apartment blocks and historic listed buildings. Once the busy centre of Poole's maritime industry it is now predominently a tourist attraction. The Grade II* listed Customs House, built in 1814, now functions as a restaurant and bar.
Poole's sandy beaches extending 3 miles along Poole Bay are another tourist draw, replete as they are with seaside cafés, restaurants, beach huts and water-sports facilities.
Poole harbor is is the largest natural harbour in Europe and, in conjunction with Poole Bay, is a magnet for sailing, windsurfing, surfing, kitesurfing and water skiing.
Poole is a cross-Channel port for passengers and freight with up to seven sailings a day in the summer season. Lots more pictures here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England - September 17, 2010

Wimborne Minster is both the name of the town and the name of the main church. The town is known locally as Wimbourne while the church is known as the Minster. Wimborne, the town, is a market town of some 6,500 people in the county of Dorset, although sadly, the market has been moved out of the downtown area which has somewhat destroyed its character.
However, Wimborne is endowed with one of the finest collections of 15th, 16th and 17th century buildings in the county, especially the centuries-old Wimborne Minster, the Town Hall and numerous original shops and pubs. 
The Minster is a Saxon Church famed for its unique chained library and the tomb of King Ethelred, the brother of Alfred the Great. It is the parish church of Wimborne and has existed for over 1300 years. The central tower and nave were founded in Saxon times, but the surviving building is predominantly Norman with some Gothic components from various periods. One of its more famous architectural features is a working astronomical clock, which rings every hour. 
The minster is constructed in a combination of Dorset limestone and New Forest stone. The western tower is 95 feet high and a second tower, above the transepts, is 84 feet high. The thirteenth-century spire that formerly crowned the shorter tower collapsed in 1600.  The organ dates from 1899 by J W Walker & Sons, and has had various rebuilds, two as recently as 2000 and 2006. 
Between the years 705-23 a double monastery was founded at Wimborne by Sts. Cuthburga and Quimburga, sisters of Ine, King of the West Saxons (688-726). The monastery was probably destroyed by raiding Danes in the ninth century and over the years, every trace of the Saxon buildings has vanished such that even the location of St. Cuthburga's Church is now uncertain. More pictures here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Charmouth, Dorset, England - September 16, 2010

Home to about 1,700 souls, Charmouth, at the mouth of the River Char is in the county of Dorset.  It faces onto Lyme Bay, part of the English Channel and dates back to the Iron Age and a Celtic tribe named the Durotriges. The name Charmouth probably originated in Saxon times from 'Cerne' meaning stony river.
The cliffs above the beach are a noted source of Jurassic fossils making the area part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site, a 95 mile stretch of the south coast extending from Purbeck island in the east to the Exeter region in the west.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Charmouth was a noted resort numbering among its visitors the novelist Jane Austen. The buildings running along Charmouth's street vary in age, some of the smaller cottages are 17th and 18th century while further up the hill the Regency era predominates. 
Although the Queens Armes Hotel, a grade II listed building, looks like a Georgian house it is actually an early 16th century house that was re-faced in the 18th century. It once belonged to Forde Abbey and Catherine of Aragon is believed to have lived there for a while. In the 17th century, after the house became an inn, it gave shelter to the fugitive King Charles II in September 1651, when, in disguise, he came looking for a boat to take him to France following his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. 
Almost exclusively a residential community the only sign of commercial activity was a fossil shop on the beach which also sold some snack goods. More snapshots here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dartmouth, Devonshire, England - September 12, 2010

Dartmouth is a little way up the estuary of, wait for it, the River Dart. It is a tourist destination and has a population of about 5,500. Historically, Dartmouth was an important deep-water port used as the sailing point for the Crusades of 1147 and 1190, and the home of the Royal Navy from the reign of Edward III.
The town was sacked twice during the 100 years war with France and, after the second attack, the estuary was closed by a chain every night and the narrow mouth was protected by two fortified castles, Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear Castle. Dartmouth also had the dubious distinction in medieval times of being a major base for "privateering", AKA state sanctioned and licensed piracy.
The town contains many medieval and Elizabethan streetscapes and is patchwork of narrow lanes and stone stairways. A number of the historic buildings are listed one of which is the Butterwalk, built 1635 to 1640. The Royal Castle Hotel was built in 1639 on the then new quay while a claimant for the oldest building is a former merchant's house in Higher Street, now a listed public house called the Cherub, built circa 1380.
Dartmouth sent numerous ships to join the English fleet that attacked the Spanish Armada in the 17th century and the Spanish Armada's "payship", commanded by Admiral Pedro de Valdés, was captured along with all its crew by Sir Francis Drake. Local folk lore tells how the ship was reportedly anchored in the river Dart for more than a year while the crew were used as laborers on the nearby Greenway Estate. Centuries later, Greenway was to become the home of Dame Agatha Christie.
In the latter part of World War II the town was a base for American forces and one of the departure points for Utah Beach in the D Day landings. Much of the surrounding countryside was closed to the public while it was used by US troops for training.
More pictures of this backwater treasure are here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Polperro, Cornwall, England - September 10, 2010

Our last port of call (literaly) in the county of Cornwall was Polperro, an acient village and fishing port on the south-east coast of the county. The fishing harbour surrounded by old, tightly packed fishermen's houses makes it magnet for tourists. In fact, tourism grew to become Polperro's main industry during the 20th century with estimates of as many as 25,000 visitors per day during the summers of the 1970s.
Fishing was traditionally the principal occupation of Polperro families and for centuries the village had been a pilchard fishing and processing port. Once ashore, the fish were salted, pressed and canned with the by-product oil being collected and used for heating and lighting.
Smuggling also developed as a prosperous activity after Polperro established itself as a port in the 12th century and reached a peak in the late 18th century when Britain's wars with America and France resulted in high taxation on imported goods. This made it particularly lucrative for the local fishermen to boost their income by the illicit importation of spirits, tobacco and other goods from Guernsey in the Channel Ilses. A more organised Coast Guard service was introduced in the 19th century and this, along with stiff penalties, gradually deterred the smugglers.
For more views of this picturesque village, click here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mevagissey, Cornwall England - September 9, 2010

Mevagissey is cradled in a small valley and faces Mevagissey Bay to its east. There are more than 60 registered fishing vessels in the harbor which also offers tourist fishing trips and a passenger ferry to Fowey in the tourist season. Tourism has long since overtaken fishing as the primary economy driver.
Known as Porthhilly as far back as 1313, Mevagissey was the outcome of a merge with the hamlet of Lamoreck in the 17th century. The new name was was formed from two Irish saints, St Meva and St Issey with the "g" borrowed from hag, the Cornish word for "and".
At that time, pilchard fishing and smuggling were the primary sources of income for the locals and supported at least 10 pubs, just two of which remain. The inner harbor was built in the late 18th century with the outer harbor following about 100 years later. Amazingly, in 1895, Mevagissey built a pilchard-oil powered power station to run the lighthouse and local street lighting.
Translucent Pears' Soap
Pears' Soap is well known in England as an expensive and refined product. Andrew Pears was born in Mevagissey in 1768 and trained as a barber before moving to London in 1789. There he opened a barber's shop in the fashionable area of Gerrard Street, Soho and quickly noticed that the London upper classes cultivated a delicate white complexion as opposed to a tanned face associated with the working class. Pears recognized an opportunity for a gentle soap for these delicate complexions and found a way of removing the impurities and refining the base soap before adding the delicate perfume of garden flowers. The resulting product was a high quality soap which had a bonus distinction of being transparent. In 1835 Andrew partnered with his grandson Francis and moved to new premises near Oxford Street. Pears' Soap is now made in India by Hindustan-Lever, part Unilever empire begun by the Lever brother.
More pictures of this picturesque village are here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pentewan, Cornwall, England - September 8, 2010

The next stop on our eastward trek was a large campground near the almost forgotten village of Pentewan on the south coast of Cornwall. Thankfully, the weather had improved significantly, the rain had cleared up and the temperatures were back up in the sixties.
Pentewan is a small coastal village in south Cornwall, a one time port used by fishing boats and for shipping local products including tin, stone and china clay. The harbor is long since silted up and is now a hundred yards or so away from the edge of the English Channel. The village and its harbour date back to medieval times.
Since 1945, Pentewan has been dominated by the large 'Pentewan Sands' caravan and camping site that covers much of the beach to the west. The village itself contains the Ship Inn, a post office, and several shops. Pentewan Board School, designed and built in 1877/78 by Silvanus Trevail, is now a restaurant. Many of the older buildings, as well as the harbour, are constructed out of Pentewan stone. A second former village pub was named The Hawkins Arms, but has now been converted to a guest house called 'Piskey Cove'. Tourism is the only substantial industry remaining in the village.
Pentewan was originally known as 'Lower Pentewan', 'Higher Pentewan' being a separate and earlier settlement to the south-west of the village. In 1086, Higher Pentewan was listed in the Domesday Book as the Manor of 'Bentewoin', one of many Cornish manors held by Robert, Comte de Mortain.
During WWII a "pill box" gun emplacement was erected in the harbour and the beach was mined as part of the "Dragon's Teeth" anti-tank defences. An air raid on the port in August 1942 destroyed the Methodist chapel and damaged several houses.
More pictures of this fragment of history are here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Falmouth, Cornwall, England - September 6, 2010

Having traveled the twenty miles from Penzance to Falmouth the weather remained foul. A quick visit to a scenic headland quickly convinced us to just go to our campsite and sulk - certainly a better option than the bonechilling rain that continued to fall.
The following day the rain had largely passed and although we reprised the headland tour we still balked at a walkabout due to the continuing wind and cold.
With a population of around 21,000, Falmouth sits at the mouth of the river Fal - hence its name. Simple isn't it? Many places around the English coast are named by this same logic wherever they are located at the mouth of a river. In this instance however, no one seems to know how the river got its name.
Falmouth is famous for its harbor - the deepest in western Europe and the third deepest in the world - as well as its frequent choice as the start or finish point for various record-breaking voyages. The headland at the east end of town was known as Peny-cwm-cuic in Gaelic but later evolved to 'Pennycomequick' and became the site where Henry VIII built Pendennis Castle in 1540.
The Falmouth Packet Service operated from here for over 160 years between 1689 and 1851 carrying mail to and from Britain's growing empire. News of Britain's victory and Admiral Nelson's death at Trafalgar was landed here and taken to London by stagecoach.
The Cornwall Railway reached Falmouth in 1863 bringing prosperity to town, making it easy for tourists to reach the town and permitting the swift transport of the goods from the ships in the port. Many of the Georgian town houses have been converted into guest houses and small hotels and Falmouth has proven such a popular holiday destination that it is has morphed into a tourist resort.
During World War II, German bombing raids killed 31 local inhabitants and an anti-submarine net was laid from Pendennis to St Mawes, preventing enemy U-boats from entering the harbor. Maritime activity has declined significantly from its heyday but Falmouth remains the largest port in Cornwall, handling cargo and bunkering vessels.
For more views, click here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Penzance (without the Pirates) - September 5, 2010

 Penzance, or "holy headland" in the Cornish language, is a reference to the location of the chapel of St. Anthony that stood over a thousand years ago on the headland to the west of what became Penzance Harbour. The town is the most westerly major town in Cornwall and was granted various Royal Charters from 1512 onwards and finally incorporated in 1614. With a population of 21,000 the town's location gives it a temperate climate, warmer than most of the rest of Britain except, of course, when we were in town. We spent the night parked behind the seawall huddled against howling winds and heavy rain at unseasonably low temperatures.
Being at the far west of Cornwall, Penzance and the surrounding villages were sacked many times by foreign fleets. In July 1595, seven years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, a Spanish force under Don Carlos de Amesquita landed troops in Cornwall. The force seized supplies, raided and burned Penzance, looted surrounding villages, held a mass and sailed way, all before the cavalry arrived.
Sadly, before buildings were listed and preserved for historical importance, Penzance tore down much of its old town and replaced it with second-rate commercial structures, the net effect of which has greatly diminished the quality of the area.
Penzance was the birthplace of Sir Humphry Davy, President of the Royal Society who invented the process of electrolysis, isolated sodium, discovered laughing gas and proved, in conjuction with Michael Faraday, that diamonds are made of pure carbon. Today he is possibly best known as the inventor of the Miner's Safety Lamp, known as the Davy Lamp. Davy had discovered that a flame enclosed inside a fine mesh cannot ignite firedamp (methane). The screen acts as a flame arrestor though which air, and any methane present, can pass freely enough to support combustion, but the holes are too fine to allow a flame to propagate through them and ignite any methane outside.
A few more pictures are here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The end of England: Land's End - September 4, 2010

At the extreme south-westerly point of the British mainland, which is also the extreme westerly point of the mainland of England, lies Land's End, longitude 5 degrees 43 minutes. A small settlement on a headland of the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall, Land's End has a romance and resonance far beyond its humble reality. Frequently cited to invoke the idea of great distance - Land's End to John o' Groats for example expresses the outer limits of Great Britain being the longest distance between two inhabited locations. John 'o Groats by the way, is a 300 population village in northern Scotland and is 838 miles by road from Land's End. Inevitably, such a distinction leads to Land's End being the start or finish point of sundry races, walks and charitable events.
Land's End was purchased in 1987 by Peter de Savary who began the serious commercialization of the renowned landmark with several new buildings and a nascent theme park. In 1991, de Savary sold both Land's End and John o' Groats which he also owned, to Graham Ferguson Lacey who, in turn sold it to the present owner, Heritage Attractions Limited, five years later. Philistine I may be, but the commercialization does not appear to have done much harm and may even encourage visitors to discover the area.
Land's End is one of four small communities comprising the local civil parish, the others being Trevescan, Carn Towan and Sennen Cove. Sennan is the largest of the four and was on our agenda for the day. The population of Sennen is about 800 and it lies 315 miles west-southwest of London. The parish church is dedicated to St Sinninus and has been there, in one incarnation or another, since the 15th century. There is a headless alabaster figure representing the Virgin Mary in the transept and a three-stage battlemented tower housing three bells.
More views of the area on a cold and blustery day are here.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Boscastle, England - September 3, 2010

At the only natural harbor in a twenty mile stretch of the north coast of Cornwall county (the Cornish coast), two little rivers, the Valency and the Jordan, run into the Atlantic ocean. In the 12th century, Bottreaux Castle, a motte-and-bailey structure, was built at the top of the steep-sided valley and eventually gave rise to the name Boscastle.
The harbor is itself is protected by two stone walls which were built in 1584. Boscastle was, for a while, a small port importing limestone and coal and exporting slate and other local produce in addition to being a fishing village. Today, the village is a popular tourist destination with a pottery shop, the usual range of "T" shirt and souvenir emporia and, of course, those crusty little critters known as Cornish Pasties were on sale everywhere.
In August of 2004 a flash flood extensively damaged the village, trapping residents in houses or on their roofs and washing the entire visitor centre out to sea. The largest peacetime rescue mission ever mounted in the UK, using seven helicopters, rescued a total of 91 people with zero fatalities. About 50 cars along with the main bridge were washed into the harbor and, to make matters worse, the sewer system burst adding to the 9 feet of water swamping the streets.
Good choice for a couple of hours walkabout, check here for more views.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Glastonbury, England - September 1, 2010

There are a few places in this world that act as magnets for spacy people. Mount Shasta, the town, on the side of Mount Shasta the mountain in Northern California, is one such. Swarming with unkempt aging hippies in tawdry knee length sweaters writing unintelligible verse and all the while mesmerized by the mountain's imagined magic powers. Glastonbury, we discovered, is another such place.
A small town in the county of Somerset with a population of around 9,000 it is centered around a defunct abbey that has been there since Saxon times. The abbey came to a violent end during the Dissolution and the buildings were "quarried" for use in local building work. Many of the oldest surviving buildings in the town are associated with the abbey. The Church of St John the Baptist on High Street dates from the 15th century.
Just southeast of town is Glastonbury Tor, a 500' hill in the midst of drained fen land. An artesan spring,emitting iron rich water for eons appears to have hardened the sansdtone in its vicinity as the iron permeated the stone and oxidized. Over the millenia, the surrounding area weathered away leaving this singular hill jutting from the plain below.
The Glastonbury whackos - the New Age Community in politically correct England - ascribe all kinds of mysterious myths and legends to Glastonbury Tor. These involve Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and of course good old King Arthur and the Lady in the Lake. In some Arthurian literature Glastonbury is actually identified as the legendary island of Avalon. During the 19th and 20th centuries tourism developed based on the rise of antiquarianism, the association with the abbey and the promoted mysticism of the town. As with many towns of similar size, the town center has seen better days and now supports a large number of alternative shops catering to the eccentric.
Glastonbury is currently famed for its eponymous Music Festivals which originally ran from 1914 to 1926. There is little link, beyond the name, between the those early festivals and the modern Glastonbury Festival, founded in 1970, which is now the largest open-air music and performing arts festival in the world. Although named for Glastonbury it is actually held at Worthy Farm 6 miles east of town.
Get to know Glastonbury here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheddar Gorge, England - September 1, 2010

Perhaps the most well known cheese in the entire world is that English cheese named after the small Somerset village of Cheddar. The name also refers to a part of the production process known as cheddaring. Henry II's Royal Accounts record the purchase of 10,000 pounds of Cheddar in 1170. In reality, cheese was a way of using up excess milk and one great advantage of hard cheeses over soft, is that they keep better.
For centuries however, cheese remained something of a luxury item for most people until Joseph Harding invented the cheese mill in the 19th century and industrialized the overall process. Harding was a vigorous promoter of Cheddar and helped to introduce Cheddar-making into Scotland as well as training American cheesemakers.
The Village of Cheddar has a long and ancient history, having been an important Roman and later Saxon center. Popular tourism began with the opening of Cheddar Valley Railway in 1869/1870 which became known as the Strawberry Line, because it passed by many strawberry-growing fields on the Cheddar side of the valley. The railroad line was closed in 1965.
Cheddar Gorge is a limestone canyon to the east of the village and is the site of the Cheddar show caves where, in 1903, Britain's oldest complete human skeleton was found. The caves, produced by underground river activity, contain stalactites and stalagmites. The gorge has become a tourist destination attracting about 1/2 million visitors each year. The maximum depth of the gorge is about 450' with a near-vertical cliff-face to the south, and steep grassy slopes to the north. Formed by meltwater floods within the last 1.2 million years, the gorge remains susceptible to occasional flooding and in 1968 water flow washed large boulders down the gorge damaging the Cheddar Cafe and washing away some cars.
More pictures here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Mendip Hills, England - August 30, 2010

Priddy, a village with a population of less than 1,000, is in the county of Somerset and is situated in a small hollow close to the high point of the Mendip hills at nearly 1,000 feet above sea-level. The Mendip Hills are classified as one of 35 AONBs - area of outstanding natural beauty - in England. Each year since 1348 the annual Folk Festival  and Sheep Fair has been held on the village green and from the 1920s, the Mendip Farmers' Hunt fox hounds have been based there. It does sound exciting, doesn't it?
Lead mining developed in the area between 300 to 200 BCE and the relatively easy opencast extraction became an attraction for the Romans, evidenced by lead ingots found in the neighbourhood that have been dated to 49 CE. Remnants of St Cuthbert's Leadworks, which closed in 1908, are still visible.
The village church, St Lawrence, dates from the 13th century and underwent some rebuilding in the 15th century with a major restoration in the 1880s. In 1997 the three original bells were augmented to five.
In the surrounding area are the Priddy Circles, a Neolithic stone circle from around 2180 BCE making it a contemporary of Stonehenge. A further characteristic of the area are the dry stone walls bounding the fields constructed from local limestone and containing no mortar.
Other historic features in the vicinity include evidence of more than 250 round barrows, or burial mounds. Much less ancient are vestiges of a WWII bombing decoy constructed on top of Black Down at Beacon Batch intended to confuse bombers targeting the city of Bristol, and piles of stones (known as cairns) that were built around the same time to discourage enemy aircraft using the hilltop as a landing site. Less romantic than one might otherwise have surmised.
More views of the area here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bradford-on-Avon, England - August 29, 2010

Devizes is 2 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian line in London. Our next stop, a quarter of a degree further west and still just in the county of Wiltshire, was Bradford-on-Avon. This is a busy market town of about 9,000 on the edge of the Cotswolds facing the River Avon. Near the center of town, the bridge crossing the river retains two of its original 13th century arches and also has a 17th century overnight "lock up" for local miscreants. The Kennet and Avon Canal also passes through the town running adjacent to the railway that provides access to other Wiltshire towns. The oldest church in the town dates back to Saxon times, circa 705 CE.
The earliest evidence of habitation in Bradford consists of fragments of Roman settlements above the town and an archaeological dig has uncovered the remains of a large Roman villa with a well-preserved mosaic. The center of the town grew up around the ford crossing the river Avon and the name of the town most probably derived from Broad-Ford. The Normans built a stone bridge to augment the ford and part of that original bridge still exists and is in daily use.
The town has numerous 17th century buildings stemming from its success in the textile industry during which period the river was harnessed to provide power for the wool mills. As the textile industry mechanized during the Industrial Revolution, wool weaving migrated from weaver's cottages to purpose built mills by the river. At the peak, there were as many as 30 such mills along the river bringing great prosperity to the town. Toward the end of the 19th century the wool industry shifted to Yorkshire and in 1905 the last mill in Bradford was closed.
More views around this picturesque town are here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seend, England - August 28, 2010

Our next stop was another Camping Club site in Seend, Wiltshire, lying alongside the Kennet and Avon canal and just a few miles west of the market town of Devizes. The Kennet and Avon Canal was built under the direction of John Rennie between 1794 and 1810 to link Devizes with Bristol to the west and London to the east.On the last Saturday of August we decided to cycle along the towpath to Devizes.
Along the canal, between village of Rowde and the town of Devizes, lie the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 29 locks that rise 237 feet in 2 miles - a 1 in 44 gradient. The locks are in three groups with the lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, spread over 3/4 mile - roughly 600 feet separation on average. The next sixteen locks form a continuous flight in a straight line up an inconceivably steep hillside. Because of this steepness, the pounds between these 16 locks are extremely short necessitating that all 15 of them are equipped with unusually large sideways-extended pounds to store the water needed to operate them. The final six locks take the canal into Devizes and are of more normal separation .
The astonishing flight of 16 locks was engineer John Rennie's solution to climbing the very steep hill and completing the 87 mile route to Devizes. While these locks were under construction a tramroad provided a link between the canal at Foxhangers to Devizes, traces of which are still visible in the towpath arches of the road bridges over the canal.
The locks take 5–6 hours to traverse in a boat and use such a large volume of water that a back pump was installed at Foxhangers in 1996 capable of returning 8 million gallons of water per day to the top of the flight - roughly one lockful every eleven minutes.
With the advent of the railways, the canal slowly fell into disuse with the last cargo barge making the journey from Avonmouth to Newbury in 1948. For a  dozen years or more the canal was neglected until a cleaning and rebuilding operation got underway in the 1960s. Gradually the canal became navigable again and joined the many others around the country providing leisure to numerous boaters and holidaymakers. Queen Elizabeth II actually opened the new locks officially in 1990 some years after they had been restored to service. Better late than never!
For pictures of the amazing flight of locks, click here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Marian's Birthday Party

This year we were actually in Fort Wayne for Marian's birthday so Martine volunteered to host a party and feed everyone with her usual gusto. Thus it was that a whole bunch of the clan congregated on Duvall Road on the 27th to witness the aging one.
Pizza, Fruit Salad, Birthday Cake and Ice Cream were all on the main course and everyone looked as if they got their fill. The usual family etiquette was clearly in evidence wherein everything presented is wolfed down in no time at all in case it should get bootlegged by a cousin or an aunt or something. Couth never was a problem in our family!
See here for more thrilling pictures.