Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Travel – the Telephone Book Exchange; rural Suffolk, UK

I’m used to seeing Books for Exchange put out on a table at our local station, usually on behalf of one of the cancer charities. Driving through rural Suffolk recently my eye was taken by this iconic red BT telephone box used as a book exchange in this village.

I stopped to take a look and found no phone but a goodly selection of books put there to be read by anyone passing.

Very enterprising – has anyone seen anything similar elsewhere in the UK?

Travel – Gladstone’s Library (St Deiniol’s), Hawarden, North Wales

April 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Gladstone’s Library was founded by Victorian Statesman, William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), arguably Britain’s greatest Prime Minister, and the most significant Anglican lay person of the last two centuries. Four times Liberal Prime Minister, four times Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Parliamentarian for 63 years, few politicians have achieved as many lasting reforms as Gladstone. He even came within a hair’s breadth of bringing peace to Ireland with his sadly ill-fated Home Rule Bill. 

Gladstone was a pragmatic political leader with an insatiable interest in history, literature, the classical world and theological dispute; a voracious reader who read 20,000 books. Britain at this time was the most powerful nation on earth, at the height of Queen Victoria’s imperialism.

I find it hard to reconcile Gladstone’s clear Christian conviction with the hypocrisy and barbarity of Empire. Yet he was solidly at the heart of it. Was he compromised by this or did he provide the conscience against even greater excesses?

‘We look forward to the time when the power of love will replace the love of power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace … nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right’. W. E Gladstone.

Gladstone, a millionaire, lived in the Castle in the village of Hawarden, North Wales, just a few miles from Chester. This is the site of St Deiniol’s Library which Gladstone founded. He bought the land in 1889 and the Library opened in 1894. The present Grade 1 listed building was opened in 1902 as the National Memorial to Gladstone. It is the only Prime Ministerial Library in the UK and is unique in being a residential library with 26 study bedrooms, some now fully refurbished and en-suite.

It’s a fascinating Victorian building; with the double-tier library occupying one entire wing and the residential areas including the dining room, kitchen and chapel the other. The bedrooms and offices are spread across the whole of the first floor. You quickly get to find your way around as the building is not actually that large.

I decided, after my week, that this is a rather special and unusual place.

Gladstone’s influence pervades the entire place. There is a huge granite statue in the grounds gazing out over the village! There are pictures, busts and other statues of the GOM (Grand Old Man) everywhere including a photo collage detailing the main aspects of his life in the main corridor leading to the dining room. 

The library was created around Gladstone’s original donation of 32,000 books. It houses a world renowned collection of theology and nineteenth century studies. The collection boasts more than 250,000 items. Gladstone wanted his library to be a country house “for the Pursuit of Divine Learning”, offering ‘insight and refreshment’ to visiting scholars and users.

The library is galleried with access to the second floor up some very narrow, winding and rickety stairs with rope handholds! Here you go back in time. This is an old-style ‘quiet’ library; individual study tables with desk lamps and old comfy leather chairs. It’s extremely conducive to study and thought, which of course is the USP of the place. It’s why it works so well. You come here specifically to think, write, study, reflect and retreat. It’s open in the evening until 10pm which I found to be a real boon.

The book collection covers mainly theology and history with the emphasis on publications from the late Victorian period. The GladCat computer system makes finding books within the library very easy indeed. There’s a thrilling touch of serendipity to come across books with Gladstone’s own pencilled annotations!

The property has a mixture of older and the newer refurbished bedrooms. I had one of the older rooms (Room 7, no view) which was very spacious, with the bathroom directly opposite. There are no TV’s in any of the bedrooms which I think is good! Broadband is fast, free and available throughout the building although one guest said it didn’t work in some of the bedrooms. I had no problems. One bug-bear however was the horrible noise late at night and early in the morning caused by the expansion of the hot water pipes!

I found that in a very short time, the place draws you into its own daily rhythm. You feel very much apart from the day-to-day. There’s a lovely modern Chapel on the ground floor. Communion takes place each weekday morning at 8am, following the Church of Wales Anglican liturgy.

The ‘Food for Thought’ Coffee Shop replaces the dining room during the day and provides snacks and drinks. I found the food overall – both in quantity and quality – adequate but not noteworthy. After dinner, the Gladstone Lounge takes on the atmosphere of a club or common room. An honesty bar operates from this room. There is a good selection of daily newspapers available both in the dining room and in the lounge.  The Fox and Grapes pub, just a short distance away across the road, serves good beer and food if, as I did, you want to get away from the library for just a while.

‘Be inspired with the belief that life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing that we are to shuffle through as best we can, but an elevated and lofty destiny’.

W. E Gladstone.

Travel – Singapore Nightscape at Clarke Quay

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

For my other nightscape photos of Singapore, click here and here.

Travel – Amberley Church and Castle, West Sussex, England

August 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Amberley is a small but quaint village in West Sussex, England, situated at the foot of the South Downs. It‘s fairly close to Arundel with its impressive castle. The village has long been known for its hotchpotch of thatched cottages. Amberley has its own station stop on the Arun Valley Line plus a popular rural life museum.

The village is ‘picture-postcard Sussex’ set on a slope above the river Arun, all pretty cottages, gardens and thatch. Amberley also has a castle with high forbidding walls, now a Country House Hotel. The ‘castle’ was actually a fortified manor House, built next to the Norman church of St Michael.

The villages of Amberley and Bury across the Arun were joined, since Charles II’s reign, by a ferry, operated by the occupants of a cottage on the opposite bank but sadly the ferry ceased operating in 1965.

The Bishops of Chichester had a summer residence here, probably before the Norman Conquest in 1066. Although there are references to the lands at Amberley being granted to St Wilfrid in 670 by the Saxon King Cedwalla, there is no mention in the Domesday Book of a church here in 1086. Soon after the Norman invasion, an earlier Saxon wooden church was replaced by a stone structure and the church was enlarged around 1150-1160, the work of Bishop Luffa who also built Chichester Cathedral.

The magnificent chancel arch dates from this period as does the square font, with its shallow blank arches carved in the Purbeck marble. The interior is completely dominated by this arch carved in the Norman style: row upon row of zig-zag carving covers the sides and underneath of the arch, supported by robust smooth-leaf capitals.

To the south of the chancel arch are 12-13th century wall paintings, depicting scenes from the life of Christ. These are known as ‘Passion cycle’ paintings similar in purpose to the English Mystery Plays, telling in narrative sequence, the story of Christ’s Passion and death, sometimes continuing to the Resurrection and beyond. There are similar wall paintings in the Parish church at Kempley in Gloucestershire.

Outside the church, the high walls of the castle dominate the churchyard. Set in the castle wall is a wooden door through which the Bishops presumably walked to the church: it is named in honour of the most eminent of their number, St Richard of Chichester.

Saint Richard was the Bishop of Chichester (b.1197, d.1253) and was canonised in 1262. He is perhaps best known for his popular prayer of Christian devotion (see below).

His statue now stands outside the West Door of the beautiful cathedral church at Chichester.

‘Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me

For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me

O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother

May I know Thee more clearly

Love Thee more dearly

and follow Thee more nearly’

The prayer of Saint Richard: Bishop of Chichester 1245 – 1253

Travel – A3 Hindhead Road Tunnel; opened fully today

After over 30 years of discussion and 4 years of excavation and finishing works, the £371m A3 Hindhead Tunnel (built by Balfour Beatty) opened fully to traffic today. Southbound traffic started using the tunnel on Wednesday and this morning (Friday), the northbound bore was opened.

Hopefully, the queues of past years are behind us and this major bottle-neck in the southeast of England has finally been eliminated.

It was suggested this week that the Hindhead tunnel marks the last major road project in England, certainly for the foreseeable future. One casualty of Government cuts is the proposed relief road around the historic site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire. Basically, the money has run out for huge public works projects!

Click here for my earlier post of the A3 Hindhead Tunnel walkthrough in May 2011.

Travel – Dolphins seen off Madeira, Mid- Atlantic Ocean

Due to its position in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, the island of Madeira is ideal for watching visiting whales and the many different types of dolphins.

At just five kilometres off shore the island shelf drops to a depth of more than 3,000 meters making these serene and beautiful animals easy to spot and watch from a boat.

These photos were taken by the author on one such visit on a rather grey day in May 2011.

Travel – A3 Hindhead Road Tunnel Walkthrough; May 2011

May 15, 2011 3 comments

Balfour Beatty and the Highways Agency built this 1.2 mile, £371m twin bore tunnel under the well-known UK national beauty spot, the Devil’s Punchbowl, situated near Hindhead in Surrey.

The A3 is the main London to Portsmouth trunk road. The sole set of traffic lights on this road are at Hindhead, just south of Guildford on the Surrey / Hampshire border. It is these lights that have caused years and years of traffic delays resulting in hours and hours of lost time and additional petrol and diesel costs. This is now the longest underland road tunnel in Britain, completing the dual carriageway between the capital and the coast.

The BBC reported, The Devil’s Punchbowl, a large hollow of dry sandy heath to the west of Hindhead, is a site of special scientific interest and part of an international special protection area designated under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. The existing A3 between the National Trust café and Boundless Road will be closed to through-traffic after the tunnel is opened and acres of land returned to heathland’.

After 30 years of lobbying, and owing to the need to get visitors down quickly to the sailing venue at Weymouth for the 2012 Olympics, the go-ahead was finally given for the project. Work began in January 2007. Over four years later, here we are and the A3 Tunnel opens for traffic this July and is expected to carry well over 30,000 vehicles a day.

The public walkthrough was held on Saturday 14th May 2011. Almost 7,000 local residents and visitors took part but many others missed out due to serious problems with ticketing and an inadequate website leading to considerable unhappiness locally.

We did manage to get tickets (after logging on one morning at 5am!) and – having already put up with a decade of development of the West Coast Rail Line whilst living in the north of England and having now spent several years of ‘rat-running’ through the Surrey lanes every morning to avoid the queues on the A3 – I was really pleased to be viewing the tunnel up close at long last. Hopefully, our morning commute will be less stressful in future?

I must say however that, having seen a number of major road tunnels in Norway, this one is not quite as impressive as some of its larger and wider European cousins.  

Travel – Somerset Levels and the Polden Hills; Southern England

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

The Somerset Levels and the Polden Hills is an area of southern England largely ignored by tourists and visitors intent on heading south as rapidly as possible via the M5 to Devon or Cornwall. This is a real shame as the area has such a unique and haunting natural beauty and is well worth exploring.

Somerset is a cradle of early English Christianity – note the plausible legend surrounding Christ’s supposed visit to Glastonbury under the care of Joseph of Arimathea, spawning Blake’s famous hymn ‘Jerusalem‘ – and of Battlefields that have changed the course of English history – Sedgemoor, Civil War 1685 and Westonzoyland, Battle for Europe 1940’s. 

The Somerset Levels  – a vast flat floodplain – were largely drained in the 1790’s enabling the area to be farmed and settled. Until then, the land was inaccessible in winter, hence the origins of the name Somerset – the Land of the Summer People.

The Polden Hills are a ridge of low hills, rising to less than 300ft at their highest point, extending from Glastonbury to Bridgwater and dominating the surrounding marshy Somerset Levels.

Travel; Wonder Full – The Light and Water Spectacular at Marina Bay Sands

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Back in February, I went to bed early whilst on a business trip to Singapore. In so doing, I missed the Grand Opening Night of the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, hearing about it the next day en route for the airport. The climax of the opening was the ‘Wonder Full Show’ billed as ‘the largest light and water spectacular in Southeast Asia’.

‘Using lasers, searchlights, LEDs, video projectors and giant water screens to create stunning visual effects, Marina Bay Sands will present a breathtaking 360-degree sensory experience portraying Light and Water creating Life, choreographed to an inspiring original score. The soundtrack is performed by a 140-piece symphony orchestra’.

Fortunately for me, the Wonder Full Show was set to run ‘until attendance levels drop off’, which in Singapore means it could go on for quite a while yet! So I caught it again on my next visit in April. There are two free 13-minute performances each night at 8pm and 9:30pm, increasing to three at weekends.

I watched the spectacle from the other side of Marina Bay, close to the iconic Merlion which was shrouded in scaffolding and enclosed by a temporary 5-star suite; The Merlion Hotel. This ‘room’ is fully booked for each of the 32 nights in operation (yep … only in Singapore!). Great views across Marina Bay though!

Apparently the MBS Light and Water Show cost US$15m not that that’s a problem for the somewhat controversial Singapore IR, centred as it is on a giant casino. In February, it was reported that in nine months, the two IR’s (there’s another one on nearby Sentosa) had already contributed S$3.7 billion towards the City State’s GDP. Incredibly, this made up almost half of what tourism put into the economy during the same period; S$7.9b. No wonder this building project was controversial and no wonder the MBS owners are already thinking of expanding their operations in Singapore!

Travel; Dymock Woods, Gloucestershire and the wild Daffodils

March 30, 2011 8 comments

Dymock Woods are made up of 17 separate woodlands on the UK’s Gloucestershire and Herefordshire county border, close to the Forest of Dean. Probably the best known of these woodlands is Shaw Common, registered also as a special ‘seed-stand’ (where acorns are collected in the autumn for use as seedlings) for the Sessile Oak, one of two species of oak tree native to Britain.

Around Eastertide each year, these woodlands are the scene of intense visitor activity as people come to view surely one of the most beautiful – and increasingly rare – sights in Britain; the diminutive and lovely wild daffodil. These were once relatively common in damp woodlands and undisturbed grassland. The countryside around Newent, Ledbury and Dymock constitutes such an area, known locally as the ‘Golden Triangle’ containing as it does large numbers of these exquisite little daffodils. Nowadays loss of habitat and cross pollination is proving to be a significant threat.

There are two wild daffodil species native to Britain; one found in the Tenby / Pembroke area and these – the Lent Lily or Narcissus Pseudonarcissus – within the Golden Triangle. In the 1930’s and right up until the 1950’s, special trains would run to this area bringing hoards of daffodil tourists to view this wonderfully uplifting natural spectacle. 

The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is custodian of two small but historic wild daffodil meadows near to Shaw Common; evocatively called Gwen and Vera’s Fields Nature Reserve. As well as being the national flower of Wales, the daffodil is also – quite rightly – the county flower of Gloucestershire.

Promise yourself you will visit the area sometime. It’s truly worthwhile and hugely inspiring.

Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 14; Wye Valley  & Forest of Dean = Map ref SO 677285

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