A Travellerspoint blog


Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree ...

semi-overcast 19 °C

Under a Spreading Chestnut Tree …
The sun’s shining and it’s conker time here in the southwest of England. Now … if you’re saying, “What on earth is a conker?” you are obviously not an old Brit.
In our first couple of days in England we walked the battlefield where King Alfred’s army fought in 878A.D.; viewed the battlefield where Cromwell’s Roundheads were defeated by the King Charles 1st’s Royalist in 1643; we’ve stood at the base of Silbury Hill – the World’s largest Neolithic monument – built 4,000 years ago, and we’ve meandered the Medieval streets of Lacock where the world’s first photograph was taken by William Fox-Talbot. Here is Lacock Abbey where William set up his pinhole camera and snapped a shot of his dining room window in 1835.
All of the above, plus the ancient circles of stones at Stonehenge and Avebury are within 10 miles of Jim’s boyhood home.
Every time we return to Europe we are stunned by the wealth of historical monuments – and by the increasingly exorbitant entry fees. However, much can be seen without payment because it is part of everyday life. Behind the modern facades of almost any High Street are buildings dating back to the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. Five-hundred-year-old hotels and houses are ten a penny here and there are numerous buildings dating back to Roman times. Here is a typical scene…
And here is an example of another historical feature which can be freely seen…

Giant white horses like this, along with other allegorical symbols, have been carved into Britain’s chalk hillsides since Neolithic times. This is the Westbury White Horse and it marks the site of a 4,000 year-old Iron Age settlement. We marveled at the incredible artistic abilities of ancient man; of the symmetry and style of their carving; and, above all, the lasting quality of work which has brought this monument to us in such pristine condition. Then we climbed the hill and discovered that the whole thing was recently plastered in concrete donated by the local cement works. Oh well! Nothing lasts forever.
Now – back to “conkers.” From time immemorial English schoolboys have been rounding up the large brown nuts of the hors chestnut trees – not to eat, but to thread onto a bootlace with a knot tied in the end…one nut per lace. Armed with his conker the young lad would sally forth and challenge any similarly armed young man to a dual – Nut to Nut at dawn. Nowadays, the mere mention of young men smashing their nuts together could be considered unsavoury but, be assured, it’s all clean fun. The nuts are smashed together until one breaks and the triumphant nut goes off in search of his next victim. Jim was thrilled to discover that the spreading chestnut tree where he used to pick his nuts fifty years ago was still standing and still supplying conkers to the youth of the ancient market town of Devizes – little changes here.

Posted by Hawkson 08:13 Archived in England Comments (2)

The Kite-Runners

semi-overcast 11 °C

As we prepared to leave yet another country, and the lovely granddaughter whom we have got to know for the first time as a real little person, we were bouyed by the prospect of re-uniting with family in England and, in just a couple of days, our friends in Canada.
Here is Grandpa Jim flying a kite with son and granddaughter on l'esterel mountains above Theoule ...
... and Charlie quickly learned to make bubbles with her new machine.
Provence became its usual sunny self, after a somewhat wobbly start, and hardy bathers could be seen along the golden shores. Cannes' film festival is seven weeks away and the crews of the super-yachts in the harbour are sprucing up their craft to greet the glitterati. We walked the familiar quays and marvelled at the multi-zillion dollar playthings that are the ultimate extravagance in a world where Ferraris and Lear Jets are just for getting about in.
Markets of all kinds have fascinated us on our trip and Cannes was no exception. However, the Marché Forville in the heart of the old city is no dingy rat-infested germ factory. Only the finest and freshest flowers, fish, meat, vegetables and fruit make it onto these stalls and the prices are steeper than the average supermarket. But don't even think of bargaining.
Here are some of the gorgeous flowers on offer.
Today, back in England, we met for lunch with Sheila's brothers and sisters-in-law.
Here's the happy bunch.
We leave for home tomorrow - our twentieth flight of the trip.

Posted by Hawkson 00:47 Archived in England Comments (1)

The Queen at Windsor

sunny 17 °C

We are now near Cannes, (Yes- the place in the Mediterranean where all the world's rich and famous go to watch movies), and it's freezing. But tomorrow they promise sun so until then we'll tell you about our last day in England when we went to Windsor Castle to have tea with the Queen. Here we are on the Long Walk at the castle approach.
Unfortunately, Her Majesty had apparently forgotten our appointment and we ended up with pie and mash at a greasy spoon down by the river Thames. At least the swans were happy to meet us.
From Windsor we walked to Eton to oggle the toffs in top hats and tails at the famous school, then we drove a few miles to Runnymede . As every English schoolboy is supposed to know, Runnymede is the very centre of the first world. It is the place where all modern democracies were born; the exact spot where, on the 12th. June 1215, King John was forced by the Barons of England to sign the world's first, (and still surviving), constitution - The Magna Carta - upon which all other constitutions are based. Apparently no one in Britain thought it worthwhile commemorating this momentous occasion so they left it to the American Bar Association who put up this monument.
However, having put up a memorial to a great British event, the Americans saw no reason why they shouldn't salute one of their own. So the Brits gave them a few acres of England's green and pleasant land to erect a monument to John F. Kennedy right next to the Magna Carta memorial.
What is the message here? Are the Yanks suggesting that JFK was as fundamental to world democracy as the Magna Carta? No answers required - we have our own opinions!

Posted by Hawkson 12:49 Archived in England Comments (1)

A Host of Golden Daffodils

sunny 16 °C

Here at The Pantiles in the Georgian heart of Royal Tunbridge Wells, in the county of Kent - popularly known as "The Garden of England" - the sun is shining and Britain is blooming.
This is a hedgerow in the middle of the Borough.
Great Britain may be densely populated compared to many other countries but there is an incredible amount of green space. We have criss-crossed the south of England in the past week, driving over a thousand miles, and have been in the countryside for more than 90% of the time. Perhaps the best thing is that as long as you don't damage crops or livestock you are free to wander the forests and pastures of this great nation unmolested. There is no general law against walking across private land. Thousands of miles of public footpaths meander across every hill and dale, towpaths snake alongside rivers and canals, and disused rail lines have been turned into cycleways and walkways.
Here are some sure signs of spring we witnessed on our country rambles.
A host of golden daffodils...
... blossoming fruit trees alive with birdsong and the buzz of bees...
....and newborn lambs gambolling in the warm sunshine.
It is so easy to be romantic about this gentle green land - when the sun is shining!

Posted by Hawkson 14:22 Archived in England Comments (1)

England's Green and Pleasant Land

sunny 15 °C

When, in the late 1700's, poet William Blake wrote,
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
he could have had Oxford in mind.
The great university colleges rise majestically out of the green water meadows of the Thames in a sight as breathtaking and timeless as the karst islands of HaLong Bay in Vietnam. But these magnificent peaks were crafted in medieval times by Henry VIII's masons and not by millions of years of erosion.
Near to Oxford are the rolling Cotswold Hills, home to a wealth of historic towns and villages. Queen Elizabeth the first would have recognized many of the buildings that still dot this iconic landscape of England. Here are just a few.
These cottages are at Lower Slaughter.
This Tudor Mansion is near Stow-on-the-Wold.
While this great house is in Lower Slaughter.
And here are two adorable ladies crossing the river in the beautiful old village of Bourton-on-the-Water.

Posted by Hawkson 00:27 Archived in England Comments (1)

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