Friday, 25 June 2010

Dungeness – Desolation and Renewal


When Alan asked me to sum up Dungeness in one word, I answered “Bleak”.  We visited on a bright sunny day with the temperature hitting the high 20s centigrade and I was proved wrong.

Dungeness is a Headland formed of a shingle beach on the south coast of England. It is one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world and harbours 600 plant species – a third of the species found in England.

The sea has gradually receded and continues to do so and there have been five lighthouses here since 1615, each one farther out than the last.

P1010761The latest of these looks very modernistic and replaced one only a few yards inland which is now open to the public.


Alan climbed the 169 steps to the top and reported a glorious view. I, very sensibly, stayed below with the dog and just enjoyed his photos.

The large building in the background of the first photo is a Nuclear Power Station. To be more accurate, 2 stations. The first is decommissioned now and the second has had its life extended to 2018.  It may be part of the reason I chose ‘bleak’ as a description of the area. Everyone knows of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl and the fear of a nuclear accident is always with us.

For my older readers, there will also be the memories of the Cold War when missiles were ready to unleash the power of the atom in anger.  We were told we would have a 4 minute warning and speculation about the results of a nuclear strike were in all the media.  We can’t forget that time.


Derelict sheds and rotting fishing boats show the social and economic changes in the area. Trying to be balanced and not to fall into the trap of believing that the ‘old times’ were the ‘good times’, fishermen had a hard and dangerous trade, venturing out into a treacherous sea without guarantee of a catch. Perhaps their children will have longer lives by not following in their fathers’ footsteps?

There is still some fishing being done along the coast and we saw a van at the local farmers’ market near our base, selling local fish when we visited this morning.

P1010750Now some of the old tarred, timber cottages have been sold to people who are deliberately dropping out of the rat race. Among them is Prospect Cottage where Derek Jarman spent the last 15 years of his life creating this beautiful garden. The plants are all local.  For those who don’t know of him, he worked as scene designer for some of Ken Russell’s films, made his own rather avant garde films, including ‘War Requiem’ starring  Sir Lawrence Olivier. Olivier came out of retirement to act in the film and it was the last role he played.

Jarman also worked on videos with Marianne Faithful, The Petshop Boys, and The Sex Pistols – I wonder if he is the only person to cross the cultural divide between Olivier and The Sex Pistols?

He died in 1994 of an HIV related illness and his garden has become famous to many more people than he would have dreamed of. Slowmotion angels has some good images of him, his work, and his garden.

In a way, the visit was a disappointment. The landscape calls for horizontal rain or, better still, fog. I’ve seen it in both moods and ‘bleak’ is not a criticism.  Now I’ve added another view, different again - but not better.

There are more photos on Picasa.

Oh, I’ve just remembered! Some episodes of Dr Who were filmed here in the 70s.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Shropshire round up

We packed quite a lot into the 10 days we were in Shropshire and are hoping to return to visit all the places we didn’t see.


One day we drove up Long Mynd. I took no photos on the way up as it was not possible to stop. We drove up a narrow lane which is not maintained in winter. First gear all the way up, a terrifying drop inches from my window, hoping we would not meet anyone coming down!  The views from the top were glorious. We drove down the less steep road to Church Stretton.  More views on Picasa.


Last summer, Tara sent me a small glass with ‘Pray for me, my husband collects trains’ on the side. I’m not sure if I should fill it with whisky or put a votive candle in it.  Either way, it made me laugh and I know she understands – like father, like son!

Alan visited Bridgenorth to see the station on the Severn Valley Railway and I stayed at the caravan with Mac.  A few of his 142 pictures are on Picasa.  They weren’t all of the railway!


We visited Sunnycroft, a small National Trust property with David and Shirley.  We were there to see some of the Leek Embroidery – not embroidery with leeks as one friend willfully misunderstood it – but embroidery by the Ladies of the Leek Embroidery Society. There wasn’t as much of it on display as we hoped but the house was interesting. I’m afraid they didn’t allow photos in the house although we had understood that all National Trust properties do now.

Shirley’s great grandmother was a member of the Leek Embroidery Society so there was a family interest in the visit. Sunnycroft’s last owner, Joan Lander, worked on the embroidery of the Queen’s Purple Robe of Velvet at the 1953 coronation. She also ran a business from the house, selling embroidery kits and, by another of those strange coincidences, I remember seeing them in Libertys and Selfridges in London and being a bit snooty about the idea of using a kit! 

‘Britain’s Bayeux Tapestry’ was worked by the ladies of the Leek Embroidery Society. It is an accurate copy, except for the fact that all male genitals are missing – even those of the stallions!  It is on display in Reading Museum and is on our list of ‘must visit’ places. The best site I have found with an account of the work is here.  Illustrations of the Tapestry can be seen at the Reading Museum site.


Acton Scott Farm Museum


The Farmyard at Acton Scott Home Farm

We visited Acton Scott Farm Museum for the first time in over 20 years while we were in Shropshire.  Alan has covered a lot of the story in ‘A Richer Earth’ so I will try not to duplicate.

In addition to the farm and the glorious countryside (we were lucky with the weather), a lot of trouble has been taken to show a glimpse of the life of country people in Victorian times.  The attention to detail is superb.

P1010679 The kitchen at Home Farm

Yes, the man sitting on the left really is drinking a cup of tea and chatting during a break from his job as a guide and farm worker. The three people in the picture were totally relaxed in their costumes and chatted comfortably with visitors, answering questions and providing information in a friendly way.

Visitors to our house will recognise the airer over the fireplace as identical with one we still use.

P1010681The zinc bath, hanging on the wall outside the kitchen is very familiar to me. I was brought up in a small house without a bathroom and we had one which was brought in every Friday night. The water was heated in a large brick built ‘copper’ with a coal fire underneath and transferred by a bucket to the bath.

Such changes in my lifetime. Today we even have a shower and hot water on tap in our caravan.

P1010719The estate was the centre of the community. The building above was the school. Built in 1866, the school was in the left of the building and the Schoolmaster lived on the right. Up to 60 children came to this school, some walking 4 miles each way.  The school closed in 1951 and now it is a cafe. A large party of schoolchildren laughing and joking outside. The looked clean, healthy and happy. I’ll bet none of them walked 4 miles to school.

There are more pictures on Picasa, including the requisite baby animals for you to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Wroxeter Roman City (Viroconium)

DSCF9465It is difficult to believe that this lovely pastoral scene is typical of an area that was fought over for centuries and, as with Northumbria, the Romans set garrisons here.

city plan-1


Viroconium began as a Legionary fortress – in this area, the borders of Wales were very fluid – and grew into the fourth largest city in Roman Britain. covering 200 acres and having 2 miles of walls. What we can see today is enclosed in the circle highlighted in the plan above.  The rest is below ground and new excavations continue.

The area open to the public was the centre of the city with the baths, forum and market.  Baths, to Romans, didn’t mean a private room. These were at the centre of public life and very sophisticated.  A visitor could use a cold bath (the frigidarium), a warm bath (the tepidarium) and a hot bath (the caldarium). Not until the 20th century did bathing again become a commonplace and enjoyable activity.

basilica-1 The basilica, illustrated above was an exercise hall and meeting place.  245 feet long and 66 feet wide, it had marble columns supporting the roof.

DSCF9529-1 Today, all that remains above ground is an area of white gravel to show the boundaries and darker circles where the marble columns stood - and one imposing stretch of wall.

P1010442 Leading to the baths, this wall is one of the largest remaining free-standing structures from Roman Britain. It is difficult to get a sense of scale and, as usual, we were looking for the mood of the place and nearly missed the opportunity to add human figures to give a sense of scale.

The above picture shows the entrance to the baths themselves.

DSCF9478-1  P1010454

The piles of tiles shown above were under the floor of the hot and cold rooms and a floor would have brought them up to the level of the entrance.

Our hats are taken off to English Heritage who have given us a glimpse into the centre of Viroconium while excavating and preserving the remains of much more.

There are more photos on Picasa.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Coalbrookdale – Coalport China Museum

Taking photos of exhibits behind glass is not easy but a post about Coalport China has to include at least one to give at least a glimpse of why Coalport was so successful.
P1010614 When a Canal was dug to connect the mines and ironworks of Blists Hill with the River Severn in the late 18th century, a new settlement grew up on the banks and was named after the coal which was the main cargo carried on the canal.
Among the varied industries which grew at the site was china production and the museum is in the remains of the old works. Coalport china is famed for vivid colours and intricate painting.
The intricate shapes were formed by ‘slip-casting’. The ‘slip’ – a liquid mix of china – was poured into plaster of paris mould which absorbed water from the clay. The clay form came away from the mould as it dried and shrank.
P1010581For complex shapes, separate pieces are cast and joined with slip afterwards.
P1010579P1010580Firing took place in several stages in the distinctive bottle ovens, protected from the soot and flames by fire-clay boxes called Saggars, placed in the kiln at the centre.
P1010611   P1010605
China production moved to Stoke, Staffordshire in the 1920s and Coalport china is still produced as part of the Waterford-Wedgewood group of companies.
Today, Coalport is a sleepy village again – apart from the visitors to the museum and people staying at the Youth Hostel which now occupies part of the old works.
More pictures on Picasa.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Coalbrookdale – Blists Hill Victorian Town

Coalbrookdale is in a narrow gorge, formed when the River Severn changed course after the last ice age.

With clay, iron, coal, and limestone easily accessible, it was the site chosen by Abraham Darby to experiment with smelting iron using coke instead of charcoal.  This enabled greater quantities of iron to be produced, sparking new developments and the first iron bridge was constructed by the third Abraham Darby in 1779.

800px-Philipp_Jakob_Loutherbourg_d._J._002 Coalbrookdale by Night, 1801 (Public Domain)

Now it is a World Heritage Site and has 10 museums in an area of around 6 square miles.

We visited two of them – Blist’s Hill and the Coalport pottery museum. It was a long day!  Blist’s Hill has grown since our last visit and is worth a full day in its own right. The admission price covers all the museums for as many visits as you like for a whole year (like Bletchley Park) and we will return later in the year to see more.

P1010468-1  A street scene


Pouring pig iron


The Doctor’s surgery

Since we took 189 usable photos between us, a further selection is on Picasa.

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