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Travel – The Hampshire Hangers; Zig-zagging up Selborne Hanger

January 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Taking advantage of the lull in our recent snowy weather, we did a winter walk around the Hampshire village of Selborne (between Alton and Petersfield on the B3006). Free NT parking (with new toilets) is available behind the Selborne Arms (SatNav GU34 3JH). This short walk is part of the 21-mile long Hangers Way.

Selborne village, Hampshire

The village is famous with naturalists around the world due to the pioneering work of the Reverend Gilbert White, Vicar of Selborne from 1751 to his death in 1793. White published one of the classic titles of English literature; The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (1789), a book which, incredibly, has never been out of print! White was born in the village in 1720, returning after attending college in Oxford where he had been ordained.

Selborne thatch

Gilbert White's famous book

Our walk led us up onto Selborne Hill and Common (owned by the National Trust) using the well-trodden ‘zigzag’ path actually cut into the hillside by Gilbert White and his brother John in 1753. The sides of the path are lined by expertly laid low hedgerows. The view from the top over Selborne and the surrounding countryside makes the fairly steep ascent (360ft) worthwhile.

View from the zigzag path

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We climbed in the snow but when we got into the beech-hanger woodlands, we were up to our ankles in thick, heavy clarty mud. We slipped and slithered – over the brown mulch from decaying autumn leaves – back down into the village, calling into Gilbert White’s House Tea Parlour for strong Assam tea and warm scones with clotted cream. Yes, I know it’s only January but summer teas do seem such a long way off!

St Mary's Church from Selborne Hanger

Clarty lanes near Selborne

Gilbert White's favourite viewpoint over Selborne

We visited St Mary’s Church on the way back to the car. This rather beautiful stained glass window in memory of Rev. Gilbert White is worth noting … ‘For a faithful priest and a writer of genius’. His striking black memorial stone is set in the floor just in front of the altar.

St Mary's Church - The Gilbert White window

Gilbert White memorial

This walk can be extended beyond the village along the Oakhanger stream but we’ll come back and do that another day. We’d seen enough mud for one day but the views from Selborne Hanger made our mud bath truly worthwhile.

I wonder if the Tea Parlour are still cleaning their floors?

Travel – Gadget convergence or travel kit spaghetti?

January 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Now this really is crazy – here’s what I take for my gadgets every time I go away in order to communicate and keep in touch with work and everyone back home!

So much for convergence ...

So much for convergence …

UK mobile + separate charger

International mobile + separate charger

Laptop + separate charger

Tablet + separate charger

Ipod + separate charger#

Ipod speakers + batteries

Camera + separate charger

Shaver + separate charger

USB lead for the phone

USB drives for backing up data

Whatever happened to convergence? Why are electrical leads and chargers not made more uniform? Anyway, I’m just about to pack it all away and travel home again,  so here goes …

Travel – Review of J.G. Farrell’s, The Hill Station (1981) : Shimla in India

May 12, 2012 3 comments

I’ve just finished reading J G Farrell’s half-completed novel, The Hill Station.  Farrell, a past Booker prize winner (1973) for The Siege of Krishnapur; recently picked out by UK Broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman as one of the nine books which have made him who he is, calling it a ‘stunning novel’. Farrell died in 1979 aged 44 after being washed away by a freak wave in a beach fishing accident in Ireland.

Between 1970 and 1978, Farrell wrote his Empire Trilogy: Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip. The Hill Station was supposed to be the final book of a quartet (similar to those of Paul Scott) but remained unfinished due to his untimely death.

Farrell had said in an Observer Magazine article,

‘The really interesting thing that’s happened during my lifetime has been the decline of the British Empire’.

In his writings, an absorbing collection of post-colonial fiction, he explored the economics and ethics of empire doing much to dismantle the staple elements of the British imperial story. This particular story is excellent in pointing up the hypocrisy and double-standards of the Raj, especially in a place like Simla, a cultural pressure cooker which many of those living there found ultimately unbearable.

For me, having visited Shimla (note post-independence name change) in northern India by hill railway from Kalka last year, this book brought back some wonderful memories. For the first three chapters I was back on the train: such marvellous detail and excellent descriptions for the journey up to Kalka; which was then the railhead for Simla. Anyone who’s travelled on a hill train in India will recognise it from this book. The remainder of the journey to Simla in those days was simply punishing. The 58 miles up into the hills were covered by Landau or by Kabul ponies pulling a ‘Tonga’.  

The novel evocatively recreates the Simla of the British Raj, something it shares with Kipling’s Kim.  If you’ve been to Shimla, you’ll recognise many of the places in the novel although interestingly Farrell never visited. He was due to go there in the autumn of 1979. Sadly, Farrell’s book finishes in mid-stream after just 150 wonderful pages, leaving one feeling bereft and a little short-changed. It ends just as it is getting into its stride but, thankfully, one of the author’s acquaintances has attempted to fill in the gaps and make sense of Farrell’s silence by developing the story further using his detailed research notes.

Not only is the book set in the India of the Victorian era but is one with a fascinating religious theme; the heated 19th century dispute between High Church Ritualism and Low Church Protestantism which led to the Public Worship Regulation Act 1874 (repealed in 1965).

The Hill Station is not kind to institutional Christianity. The Bishop of Simla goes not emerge from this very well, being as he is, more interested in maintaining the party line. However, Revd Kingston, the Anglican ritualist priest cast as the outsider, is given generous treatment by the author on account of the fact that his beliefs are actually central to the way he lives his life.

In the book, the arguments on both sides of this now ancient debate are superbly presented, predominately through the riveting dialogue given to the central characters. The characterisation is strong particularly in the case of the vaguely agnostic Scottish Doctor, McNabb. I loved the underlying tension developed by his longstanding attempt to write a treatise on Indian medicine when all along he was investigating the unexplained effects of religion on the human spirit.

These photographs of Shimla were taken on a visit to India in October 2011. The now fast fading Victorian architecture reflect something of Godalming High Street incongruously set 4,000 miles away in the Shivalik foothills of the Himalayas.

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

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