A walk along the cliff path in North Devon, a perfect blue sky with a smattering of clouds making patterns on sky and sea. Perfect!
The long narrow village of Combe Martin is typical of the North Devon coast – high rocky cliffs interspersed with narrow valleys. Walking on the clifftop path from the high points of Great and Little Hangman there are views of the spread-out village. The path meanders through a dense thicket, suddenly emerging onto a steep grassy slope, where the harbour nestles below.
The name Combe Martin comes from the Norman feudal barons the Fizmartins, who came over after the Norman invasion of 1066. It surely originates from the Christian St Martin of Tours many years before that.
Exploring Llandudno’s Great Orme, we came across this picturesque cemetery at just the right time, with the late afternoon September sun low enough to provide superb lighting.
The cemetery was opened in 1903, just next to the graveyard of nearby Saint Tudno’s church, hidden behind trees to the right. Saint Tudno is the patron saint of Llandudno and gives its name (Llan – dudno). What a magnificent setting!
In the distance is the Gwynt y Môr wind farm, said to be the fifth largest operating offshore windfarm in the world.
Crosby beach is a popular place to view the ships coming into Liverpool down the deep water channel in the Mersey estuary. The windmills provide an ideal backdrop, as the Antony Gormley statues look out.
A good place to rest awhile.
And as the sun goes down you can watch the ships queuing to come down the deep water channel into Liverpool.
Antony Gormley’s installation ‘Another Place’ on Crosby Beach, Merseyside, continues to be a favourite place to visit. Identical statues of Gormley himself are placed across the beach and into the sea.
Some of the statues have become very weather worn; others are in relatively good condition – and they’re quite an attraction for visiting dogs.
Always, the statues look out to sea – the perennial search for what lies beyond…
Featured image shows the view from the beach
towards Birkenhead on the other side of the River Mersey.
“I imagine you are both enjoying seeing the grandchildren grow up,” said a friend by email, while we were out in Houston with the family. We were, but this was soon curtailed by the developing coronavirus panic on both sides of the pond.
We were due to fly back to Manchester 7th April, but it was becoming clear that we’d have to do so sooner. President Trump stopped people flying in from Europe from Friday 13th March. Maybe we should bring our departure forward by a couple of weeks to Tuesday 24th?Read More »
Where The Mind Is Without Fear
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
Ray Miller Park is a smallish urban park just by the busy Eldridge Parkway in Houston. In a quiet corner of the park it is a delight to come across Tagore Grove, established in memory of the Indian polymath Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). A calming space on the midst of all that busyness.
The featured image shows a panel containing the words of Tagore’s poem, shown in full above – a call across the ages, so relevant to these times.
As child I was taken to the seaside at Southport on the few occasions we strayed from Lincolnshire, to stay with cousins on the other side of the country. An abiding memory is of the long walk down the pier and the tram you could take down the pier’s length to make the journey back easier. And then there was the question of the sea – it wasn’t always there, just miles and miles of beach.
Southport was created in the great Victorian railway/seaside resort boom, and very grand it was, too. Its pier, built in 1859, is the oldest iron pier in the country. At 3,635ft (once 4380ft) it is the second-longest in Great Britain, after that at Southend. In it’s heyday the pier was visited by steamers conveying tourists along the coast. By the 1920s increased silting meant steamers could no longer reach the pier, which fell into disrepair, until restored in the new millenium. The tramway recalled from my childhood ran in various forms until 2015, but the recent austerity meant it could not be maintained and the tram is now replaced by a little road train, which looks not bad on the featured photo.
The same silting in the water channel allowed for land reclamation, which is why some of the pier now runs over what is now dry land, reclaimed from the sea. This provided for the creation of the Marine Lake, now a very good location for paddleboarding.
Of course, the pier can be relied on as the foreground to some great sky photographs, but most usually with a base of sand rather than sea.
We were in the car park by Southport’s Marine Drive having lunch. Out of the dunes at the back of the parking area came several youngsters carrying what looked like a couple of canoes or surf boards. Not thinking much of it, we carried on eating. A few minutes later their two tiny cars drove away, and we realised there was no trailer, no roof rack, the boards had somehow gone into the cars. Now that was a mystery.
Lunch over, we went for a walk with the dog over the said dunes to see the Marine Lake. On the lake were a couple of similar boards, with people standing on them and apparently punting or paddling. A friendly local, who turned out to be their mother, was standing by the waterside, so we asked her what these things were – paddleboards. Apparently they fold down for storage but you pump them up to make the boards, which are then driven/steered from a standing position by a long paddle.
The slowly declining sun provided a super backdrop for a photograph or two.
According to our informant, the Marine Lake is a popular venue for paddleboarding. She had tried it on the sea, but got seasick!
Internet research shows that paddleboards have been around for a few years and are a rapidly growing trend. It looks fun. We should keep up!
Neumann’s Flash was formed when a salt mine collapsed in 1873. The Northwich salt mines had expanded rapidly without due safeguards, so inadequate supports were left to hold up the ground overhead.
A chemical industry developed around the production of salt, so the enormous holes created by this collapse, and the even more dramatic collapse of the nearby Ashton’s Flash in 1880, were in the 1950s used to dump lime waste. After dumping ceased, nature gradually began to recover and since the 1970s the area has been gradually developed into a country park, now part of the Mersey Forest initiative. Yes nature will recover, if given half a chance. See the story here.
Today, this is a great area for walking and birding, joining up with the nearby Anderton and Marbury parks.
The picture shows Neumann’s Flash from one of its three hides, with a fair sprinkling of birds on the water, as the sun slowly sinks towards the horizon.
The featured image is a crop of the central area.
In my experience the Merseyside coast has some fabulous sunsets. The recent one at Southport, with the sun setting over the Mersey bay, was particularly spectacular.
To see an image full screen you will need to single click twice. The high contrast resulted in my Panasonix TZ200 producing a rather grainy beach with little detail.
This sky also gave a good backdrop to two of Southport’s rather quirky pieces of street decoration.
After a recent visit to a favourite town, Vézelay in Burgundy, I dug out this unpublished article I wrote in 2002. Here it is with a bit of editing to bring it up-to-date, and a few photos.
The small town of Vézelay is a special gem. Visit here, and allow yourself to be entranced by its beauty, inspired by its spiritual quality, fascinated by its history, and restored by its natural surroundings.
Vézelay owes its existence to the tradition of pilgrimage. Its Basilica of Mary Magdalene has attracted pilgrims from all over Europe for over a thousand years. The main attraction was the relics of Mary, brought to the then monastery in the 11th century from St Maximin in Provence, where she was said to have been buried. Vézelay became one of four major starting points for pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostella in north west Spain (Paris, le Puy and Arles are the others).
Set along a hilltop, the Vézelay skyline offers an enticing perspective as you approach from any of several directions. If you park at the bottom of the hill, the main street winds picturesquely upwards past a selection of shops offering, among other things, provisions, crafts, wines, souvenirs and books, also galleries, bars, and restaurants.Read More »
After visiting Aix la Chapelle / Aachen, capital of the Holy Roman Empire around 800, it seemed appropriate to also visit Trèves / Trier around 100 miles to the south. Trèves was conquered by the Romans in the time of Emperor Augustus around 16BC, when it got its name Augusta Treverorum. Trèves became one of the leading cities of the Roman Empire, and eventually in the 4th century oversaw much of the Western part of that Empire – that Charlemagne re-established 400 years later.
The most impressive Roman remain here is the Porta Nigra, built in 170AD, the best preserved Roman City Gate north of the Alps. This is a massive structure, a clear demonstration of power, but hardly beautiful.
I understand that we owe the current restored state of the gate to another Emperor, Napoleon.
Nearby in the attractive city centre is the cathedral, said to have been originally commissioned by Emperor Constantine, but clearly most of it is much more recent. It’s a nice enough cathedral to explore, along with its cloisters and the neighbouring Liebfrauenkirche.
There are more Roman remains in Trier, but we didn’t tarry long. Traffic problems seemed even more intense than in the UK. We headed for France!
The first image of the gate is from Wikimedia Commons, thanks to Berthold Werner
I’ve previously mentioned how Aix la Chapelle, or Aachen, was the original capital of the holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne in 800. As befits an Emperor, the cathedral built for Charlemagne, completed around 805, is even today quite magnificent.
The interior is painted or marbled in magnificent fashion, which quite took my breath away on a recent visit. Of course, the original cathedrals were decorated both inside and outside. Here at least the interior decoration remains, giving a taste of just how impressive these buildings originally were. And just imagine the collective dedication and money that has gone into maintaining such an edifice over more than twelve centuries.
Here are just four photographs (as slideshow) to give a brief impression. You just have to go there for the experience.
To visit Europe is to travel through history, and in my case gradually build up a picture of Europe’s history that was neglected in my education. I first heard of Aix la Chapelle as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne, which reunited Western Europe, effectively recreating the original Roman Empire (European Union is not a modern idea!). Charlemagne was crowned Emperor there in the year 800.
Eventually I realised that the romantic-sounding Aix la Chapelle is actually known as the much more dour sounding Aachen in German. The roman languages are so much more poetic! Aachen is today in Germany, close to the Belgian border.
According to Wikipedia, Aach, means river or stream, corresponding to the Latin aqua and the French Aix. Remains show that Aachen was indeed a Roman ‘spa’ town. ‘La Chapelle’ of course refers to Charlemagne’s cathedral, one of Europe’s great and most historic buildings, originally completed around 805.
I intend to say more about a recent visit to Aachen in a future post.
Featured image shows Aachen town hall and cathedral,
by Arne Hückelheim via Wikimedia Commons
How typically English (in the bucolic imagination) to play croquet on the lawns of the Bishop’s Palace with Well Cathedral in the background. The players are all dressed up in whites for the occasion, watched by the hoi polloi at the nearby tea shop.
A couple of games are in progress, all women apart from one man, who from time to time rests on his mallet while the women enjoy discussing the tactics of their next move, or maybe their next shopping trip.
The game appears to be played in a ‘gentlemanly’ spirit, with handshakes all round at the end. There is none of the aggression I recall from young men playing opportunistic games of croquet many years ago.
Sport as it should be!
Leave Interstate I10 at Katy and go up the long straight Katy Hockley Road for nearly 10 miles, past lines of new housing developments mixed with the usual (for Houston) random industrial and commercial units, and eventually you arrive at Paul D Rushing Park. Amazingly, you are still in Katy (yes, the greater Houston area is just that big). We’d ‘discovered’ this park from the website of Houston Audubon, giving suitable places for birders.
Suspicions arose when there were zero cars in the car park. At first sight this looked like a sports facility with ball courts. But there must be birds somewhere! Past the ball courts and toilets there were several lakes, apparently surrounded by little vegetation other than grass. A few odd ducks were immediately apparent, but the area looked otherwise barren.
Well, we’d come to walk, so walk we did. There were lots of viewing platforms, blinds and walkways over the lake, but not a lot to view. Soon we saw a coypu in the water, then an amazing scissortailed flycatcher rested in one of the few bushes, then egrets on the boardwalk hand rails (featured image), chicks in the water, a black stilt in the distance, a little brown job – some sort of sparrow, then a yellowlegs wader, turtles,… So actually there was quite a lot going on in a park that at first looked so unpromising. But it still looked strangely lacking in vegetation to European eyes!
Llano is a good place to stop on the way to somewhere else in Texas. This small town was founded as a frontier trading centre on the Llano River in 1856. The river and the ‘old’ town provide the main focus of interest, plus one of the best BBQ restaurants around (delicious).
The bridge is rather functional and not particularly attractive, so I was quite surprised that my Panasonic ZX200 made it look quite attractive after nightfall (featured image).
More spectacular was the view of the evening sky from the bridge, over the weir.
Mute swans are common in the UK, possibly related to the fact that the Monarch retains the right to ownership of all unmarked swans in open water.
Mostly you see them in small family groups, but in some places such as Windsor there are large colonies. This group that we saw on Southport’s Marine Lake were clearly acting as a coherent grouping, speeding along together, like lads who’ve heard there’s free beer – presumably to meet up with others we’d spotted further along the water.
The single cygnet suggests that this is not a family grouping as such.
One of the delights of visiting WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, in November is to see the feeding of the thousands of birds – ducks, waders, geese, whooper swans, with flocks of lapwings wheeling overhead, sometimes a starling murmuration, more geese and swans circling and descending gracefully onto the water,…
This is soon followed by the gradual descent of the sun to the horizon behind the mere, as the birds begin to settle for the night.
At such times all seems well with the world.