Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Thomas Hardy's cottage and T E Lawrence's grave

It's the last night of our UK summer tour because tomorrow we take the
Engraved window at St Nicholas church 
long drive back to Sussex and the campsite there in Hailsham from where we started out in April. I've got a bit behind in my blogging over the weekend as I should be writing about today's Weymouth visit, but I haven't yet covered Bristol and Bath, or updated you about some fantastic petition news. We have two and a bit weeks in Hailsham so I will catch up and probably reminisce too. We've had a wonderful summer and I think I would like to write a couple of highlights posts - if I can narrow down enough to not just be recapping everything!

Let's start with the fantastic news! Firstly Shell have announced that they are going to stop drilling in the Arctic for the foreseeable future. How far they can foresee I don't know, but I'm hoping that it's a face-saving phrase meaning forever. Greenpeace's Aurora polar bear can go home! Secondly, PepsiCo - who are the parent company of Doritos - have just come out with a new palm-oil policy containg stronger language around human rights and carbon emissions. Sadly, the policy does not cover PepsiCo’s business partner in Indonesia, Indofood, which produces all of PepsiCo’s products in Southeast Asia, but it's a start and SumOfUs have produced a new video to 'encourage' the company further.

The little village of Moreton is vaguely on the way to Weymouth so we
T E Lawrence's grave in Moreton 
detoured this morning in order to see their unique church and the last resting place of T E Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia. I had read a little about this great man in Daughter Of The Desert, the Gertrude Bell biography, so was interested to see his grave, especially as we were so close by. Moreton cemetery is small but has a grand entrance and there is a large stone tablet to the right laid in 1784 in memory of someone's great friend, 'James Frampton'. I wondered if this was the ancestor of the James Frampton who, fifty years later, would order the Tolpuddle Martyrs deportations to Australia. Lawrence's grave is an elegant but unassuming affair and I thought it was interesting that his mother had chosen an epitaph highlighting his scholarly background rather than his military achievements. I have his book Seven Pillars Of Wisdom on my Goodreads TBR list and must remember to look out for a copy.

Also while in Moreton we took the opportunity to walk around the outside
Window at St Nicholas Church, Moreton 
of St Nicholas church which is just a short walk from the cemetery. We saw a gorgeously engraved bowl last week in the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. Its artist, Laurence Whistler, engraved all the clear glass windows of the church too and, as you can see from the close-up at the top of this post, the detail is superb. The previous windows which I guess were traditional stained glass were badly damaged during a Second World War bombing raid in October 1940. Their 13 hand-etched replacements were created over a thirty year period from 1955 to 1985. Apparently Whistler was commissioned to make twelve windows but actually created thirteen - the thirteenth being a design that featured Judas. The church initially refused this final window so it languished in a museum for several years before finally being installed alongside the others last year.

Yesterday we spent time with Dave's brother Andrew and his wife Lynda
who live here in Dorset. They have two energetic spaniels and we arrived in time for walkies so I got to wander past Hardy's Cottage which is a beautiful National Trust property in Higher Bockhampton. Hardy was born and grew up here, writing several of his early short stories, poetry and novels including 'Under the Greenwood Tree' and 'Far from the Madding Crowd'. The cottage was already closed to visitors for the day so we just peered over the wall! It is a very peaceful wooded spot and would have been even more secluded in Hardy's day making it the perfect retreat for a writer. There is an obelisk memorial outside on the path too which I learned was erected in 1931 by 'a few of his American admirers'.


Thomas Hardy memorial,
Higher Bockhampton 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum - a timely reminder of Trade Union importance

Tolpuddle is a pretty village within walking distance of our current
Thompson Dagnall sculpture outside the Museum 
Puddletown campsite. If it weren't for a terrible misuse of power in the 1800s, Tolpuddle might be a mostly unknown agricultural community. However, the events of 1834 and their repercussions mean that the name Tolpuddle is still, nearly 200 years later, synonymous with workers' rights and triumph over abusive working practices. It is depressing that the Trade Union struggle for basic rights continues to this day and that our current Tory government seems intent on repeating the arrogant mistakes of their landed gentry forbears! Do you remember the SumOfUs petition I publicised in August about proposed Tory restrictions on British Trade Unions? 114,125 of us have signed at the time of writing and the petition is open for more!


In 1834, six Tolpuddle men 'clandestinely' grouped together, swearing an oath of allegiance, in order to present a united front demanding that their farm labourer wages be raised from starvation levels. The wage was about nine shillings a week and a breakdown within the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum illustrated very basic outgoings for a labourer's family to be about thirteen shillings a week. And this is still the era when a married woman was expected solely to look after the family home not having independent employment of her own. Although forming a trade union was legal at the time, the fledgling idea was not popular with the majority of landowners who preferred the theories that social class was static and poverty-stricken peasants should be grateful for any wage at all! Indeed, slavery across the British Empire had only been officially abolished the year before. A completely unconnected law was subverted regarding the Tolpuddle men's swearing of an oath and this was used to crush them.

George Loveless, his brother James Loveless, James Hammett, James
http://www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk/
Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum 
Brine, Thomas Standfield and Thomas's son John Standfield were all arrested and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia. Massive public outrage eventually forced the men's return, but this took several years to achieve. The Museum details the harsh life endured by the men in the colonies and for weeks on disease-ridden prison ships before they were even deported. The display room is quite small but well presented with printed fabric banners hanging in chronological order. It was interesting that, despite the Tolpuddle Martyrs fame in the 1830s, the only original image was of James Hammett, and that was a photograph of him taken in old age when his story was rediscovered by the trade unions movement. Yet, all the 'villains' of the tale had been painted, some images even being from the National Portrait Gallery. Another glaring omission was information about what happened to the families while their men were under arrest and imprisoned.

I was moved by the story of the six Martyrs, especially because it is so relevant to our society today. (Please do consider adding your name to the SumOfUs petition if you have not already done so.) One of the Museum banners showed a book cover, The Victims of Whiggery: Being a Statement of the Persecutions Experienced by the Dorchester Labourers which was written by George Loveless after his release and before five of the six, with their families, decided upon emigration to Canada for the remainder of their lives. I definitely want to read this account! The Museum has an excellent gift shop with t-shirts, stationery, and an extensive selection of books. I didn't see any edition of Victims Of Whiggery though, but have learned that Cambridge University Press will be publishing it in June 2016. The title is already available to pre-order via Amazon (and, yes, I do appreciate the irony of linking to a company who aren't exactly at the forefront of promoting worker's rights!)

Saturday, 26 September 2015

We learn geology at Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

I have listened to several of our friends discussing the popular tourist
Lulworth Cove 
destinations and now World Heritage sites of Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door and on Wednesday I finally got to see both for myself! There is a huge Pay and Display car park, testament to how many visitors must walk these cliffs every year, and otherwise everywhere is free. We started by walking on the shingle around Lulworth Cove itself before heading steeply upwards on the far side. The water here is a beautiful blue colour and I appreciated the sign boards explaining the geology around us as well as the examples of the different rock types - Portland, Purbeck, Greensand and Chalk - huge chunks of which are set out for examination.

Stair Hole, shown to the right, is in the process of becoming another cove. We were fortunate to temporarily be standing by a lectured school group for a few minutes so learned that the Cove was eroded by four occurrences - hydraulic action and solution being two of them. We moved on before their teacher got to the others! All the ground here has been tilted way back in the past so the layers of its creation are clearly visible as vertical stripes. The oldest rocks here are apparently as much as two hundred and fifty million years old and the youngest 'only' about sixty five million years old. I have reposted that great graphic from the Museum post yesterday to show that this huge period is just a small section of the whole timescale - only the right hand side of the outer circle (indicated by the red line). It's absolutely incredible!

Graphic from Dorset County Museum 
Dave had read online that it is possible to see the fossilised remains of an ancient Cypress forest that once covered the landmass. Unfortunately we didn't realise that it would need to be low tide and also not on a day when the army were shooting at each other on the Ranges as the forest is within their wire fences. This meant that we would have needed to have visited on a Sunday, a Bank Holiday or during August. Judging by how busy the car park was on a Wednesday in late September, I'd say we would be lucky to even get near Lulworth Cove on those days! Instead, we walked back to the Visitor Centre, enjoyed an ice cream - the
Durdle Door 
Blackcurrant And Clotted Cream flavour is excellent - before girding our loins against a second steep uphill towards Durdle Door. Dave said when he was here in the late 1990s he took one look at the hill and turned away. He was so much older then but fortunately is younger than that now or certainly fitter and we plodded our way up. There's a big holiday camp marking the top and a interesting scree descent - my favourite! It's certainly worth the effort for the view though. We now knew that the arch is formed of Portland Stone, the oldest of the rock types here, and that its name is probably from the Anglo Saxon 'thirl' meaning bore or drill.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Having blogged our Government's response to an anti-whaling petition a couple of days ago, I have another for signing today. I am protesting the possible removal of renewable energy subsidies in favour of nuclear power investment. (I would also like to protest their language which is one of my pet hates, but there isn't a petition for that! Subsidy implies special help whereas investment gives the impression of future returns and what I want to see always seems to fall in the subsidy bracket - rail subsidy versus road investment being the most common example - even though both are essentially the spending of taxpayers' money on services that should be publicly owned anyway. Grrr!) Now, where was I?

"The Government is currently consulting on plans to cut subsidies for
solar and wind power by up to 87%, whilst giving billions of taxpayers' money to privately owned nuclear power projects." I believe Britain should be leading the way in the creation of new sustainable technologies, not harking back to the past. We used to be known for our engineers and our fabulous inventions!

"Currently, solar panels are more affordable because extra energy you don't use is 'sold back' to the grid, to be used by others. This 'feed-in-tariff' (FiT) income pays for the initial installation costs over time. The FiT is what the Government want to cut, by 87%! This will make solar panels unaffordable to many people and will have serious impacts on this industry which is just beginning to get going. The fewer people that buy solar panels, the more expensive they become to manufacture."

"I've just signed this petition to demand that the subsidies for renewables are not cut. Will you do the same?"

Friday, 25 September 2015

There's some seriously old history in Dorset

Before I start talking about what we've seen, can everyone raise a glass 
Victorian Gallery at the Dorset County Museum 
to Dave whose birthday it is today!

Happy Birthday Boyfriend!!

We are discovering amazingly ancient history here in Dorset. The nearby coastline is known as the Jurassic Coast and much is made of its being England's first natural World Heritage Site. I wonder how many other such fascinating places you all have blogged about? There's a linkytools linkup at the end of this post to share your own favourites.

On Tuesday we ventured into Dorchester for the afternoon. It's a nice enough town although I wasn't blown away by it. Perhaps the grey skies didn't do it justice? We spent a good hour or so touring the Dorset County Museum which has a strange mix of exhibits on show. Entrance is about £6 (just over for me, just under for Dave) and I particularly wanted to see the huge Pliosaur skull which is shown below. It wasn't actually eating a fire extinguisher!  I loved the architecture of the Victorian Gallery (pictured above) which is a beautiful room and so-called because of its period of construction rather than its content. Here there were artworks, sculptures, the remains of a Roman coffin, floor mosaics, fossils and pinned butterflies. Then upstairs features cases crammed with relatively modern items including an egg box from Tesco! Throughout the museum, some cases and displays were neatly labelled whereas others, frustratingly, had no information at all .

Pliosaur jaws 
The Jurassic Coast Gallery, in which the fossil is displayed, was opened
by Sir David Attenborough and also includes this wonderful spiral graphic representation of Earth's entire history. I can just about cope with imagining in hundreds of years - Normans, Vikings, Anglo Saxons, Romans - but when we start talking in millions of years, it's like the history equivalent of Monopoly money and my brain overloads! (You can click on the image here to bring up a larger version where hopefully the text will be readable. It is a little blurred.)

The Museum also houses a large literary display in Writer's Dorset. The focus is on the local connection to Thomas Hardy - whose books I must one day try to read - and I liked the recreation of his study which had been modelled on his home at nearby Max Gate. Photographs and posters advertising the recent film version of Far from the Madding Crowd cover one wall.

After the Museum, we walked out to the Roman Town House, only five minutes away round the far side of the Council offices - or ten to fifteen minutes if you go the long way around. This site is free to visit and consists mostly of the remains of low stone walls and building foundations. There are a few sections of mosaic still visible behind their protective glass. A lot of effort has gone into providing explanatory diagrams and descriptions of the house and we enjoyed trying to fit these to what we saw in front of us.

I would love to see your travel blog posts about fabulous historic places. Old and new posts are all welcome and a link back to my blog would be great, but isn't essential! Add your links below:




Thursday, 24 September 2015

UK Government's response to petition against commercial whaling

I learned of a current petition on the UK Government website calling for David Cameron to stand by his manifesto commitment to oppose commercial whaling. The way the petitions work is that 10,000 signatures will elicit a response from 'The Government' and 100,000 will cause the issue to be considered for debate in Parliament. At the time of writing this post 46,144 of us had added our names. We have got the nicely-worded-but-basically-spineless response below, and now would love to actually get some real attention before another 4,000 whales are killed in Antarctica by Japanese hunters.

Please consider signing the petition

"The UK Government is strongly opposed to whaling, other than some limited activities by indigenous people for clearly defined subsistence needs. We continue to call on whaling nations to stop

The UK Government is committed to delivering its manifesto commitment of opposing any resumption of commercial whaling, by continuing to support the global moratorium established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The UK Government remains strongly opposed to the hunting of cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), other than some limited activities by indigenous people for clearly defined subsistence needs. We believe that the hunting of cetaceans involves unacceptable cruelty, and that well managed, responsible tourism is the only truly sustainable use of these animals.

The UK Government plays a leading role in championing the conservation and welfare of all cetaceans both in the UK and internationally. We are particularly active in the IWC where we are well respected and maintain a strong and vocal presence in support of the moratorium. We continue to lead calls for those countries that still engage in commercial whaling practices, such as Iceland and Norway, to stop.

The UK Government also considers there to be no valid argument for lethal scientific research on cetaceans and we welcomed the judgment of the International Court of Justice in 2014. We have already voiced our opposition to Japan’s new programme of special permit whaling in the Antarctic, and its on-going programme in the North Pacific, directly to the Japanese Government several times during 2015. Most recently, in July 2015, Minister of State for farming, food and marine environment, George Eustice, wrote to the Japanese Government raising our opposition to their on-going coastal hunts and their continued programme of lethal scientific research on cetaceans.

The UK Government remains alive to opportunities for applying diplomatic pressure on whaling nations. We will continue to look at international negotiations for appropriate and effective opportunities to raise our objections to commercial and lethal scientific whaling, and do so in co-ordination with other EU Member States and like-minded countries. We will carefully consider whether the EU-Japan free trade agreement negotiations and Japan’s efforts to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council can offer such an opportunity.

The governments of whaling nations are in no doubt as to the strength of feeling and opposition in the UK to the hunting of cetaceans. The UK Government will continue to apply pressure by raising our opposition at all levels of the governments of whaling nations in the build up to, and at, the next IWC meeting in 2016.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs"

Please consider signing the petition

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

We visit the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain and see a crop circle

Puddletown is our base for the next ten days and we are now pitched up
on the Caravan Club CL campsite of South Admiston, having arrived on Monday afternoon. It's a working cattle farm which was originally built in 1845 as part of the estate of Athelhampton. The small grass field is somewhat the worse for wear due to the rain and we did turn up during a shower. Actually we had rain pretty much all the way from Huntisbeare and even fog for part of the journey. Drivers were still zooming past with no lights on even with visibility down to practically nothing. South Admiston has just electric hook-up, water and waste, and is £12 a night or £14 if we decide to put our awning up. We have been issued with a huge folder of leaflets and booklets advertising Dorset attractions so have our fingers crossed for nice weather to see as much as we can at its best.

After a late lunch of slow-baked wholemeal bread, jam and cheese (have
Path through earthworks to the western entrance 
you all tried out the bread recipe yet?!), we decided to make the most of a break in the weather. Our first choice of the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum turned out to be closed on Mondays so we set out for the largest Iron Age hill fort in Britain instead. Maiden Castle is believed to have been first laid out around 600BC and was built over an existing Neolithic settlement that was in use some 6000 years ago. English Heritage maintain Maiden Castle so there are several helpful information plaques about although one had been 'vandalised' and we spotted the culprits in the process of damaging another - the signs' lower corners are just the right height for sheep to scratch their backs under! The site and its car park are free to enter and we spotted a couple of sturdy bicycle hoops too which is great as National Cycle Network routes run close by.

Apparently the size of fifty football pitches, Maiden Castle has an awe-
Roman temple remains 
inspiring series of ditches and ramparts surrounding its central plateau. Some ditches are over six metres deep. The defences were added to over several centuries with the western entrance in particular becoming positively baffling! Pathways are mown to show where Iron Age inhabitants would have walked and the aforementioned sheep are responsible for grass cutting on the rest of the site. We found the remains of a small Roman temple which is believed to have been dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Romans took over Maiden Castle during their great invasion in AD43 (my recent read Skin by Ilka Tampke describes life in Celtic Britain immediately before this period) but we were told that the temple wasn't built until some two hundred years later. This was long after the hill fort had been abandoned which I found very bizarre.

Ditches and ramparts at Maiden Castle 
There are long views in all directions from Maiden Castle so it was easy to imagine why the site was chosen. Archaeological excavations in the past uncovered thousands of slingshot pebbles transported there from Chesil Beach, and the discovery of a mass grave led to speculation about the circumstances of the burials. We were intrigued by small steel circles inset into the earth over wooden bases. Dave wondered whether they were some form of erosion markers? We also spotted a kestrel hovering and diving, although it didn't seem to catch its prey, and I was delighted to see a crop circle - or where one used to be anyway. Are they still called crop circles when the crop has been harvested?

Crop circle below Maiden Castle 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel / The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander / On the Origin Of Free Masonry by Thomas Paine

Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Dave and I were both impressed with our first Dava Sobel read, Longitude, and Dave chose Galileo's Daughter for his Kindle on the strength of the former. As it turned out, he disliked Galileo's Daughter so much that he didn't finish it whereas I found the book interesting and enjoyed learning more not only about the life of the great scientist, but also of the (by modern standards) terribly restrictive life forced on to both his daughters.

Suor Maria Celeste, the religious name adopted by Galileo's eldest daughter at the age of thirteen when she and her eleven year old sister were shut away in the San Matteo convent, exchanged letters almost continuously with her father throughout her short life. Her letters have survived and Sobel includes several within her book in order to illustrate points in what is essentially a biography of Galileo. Through her writing and evidence left by Galileo himself in surviving letters to third parties, it appears that Suor Maria Celeste was educated and highly intelligent yet condemned to a poverty-stricken secluded existence while her younger brother was repeatedly given opportunities that he squandered. This double-standard was common practice in Italy at the time, but I couldn't help but wonder at the waste!

Sobel's writing is informative while still being entertaining and she manages to always avoid becoming dry in tone. The minutiae of daily life recounted in Suor Maria Celeste's letters is incredible to read and I was amazed at her frequent need to beg alms from her rich father and patrons in order to stave off near starvation for herself and the sisters in her convent. Also incredible was the paranoia of the Vatican and Popes in Rome regarding their fanatical condemnation of any thinking that did not agree with their narrow interpretation of Scripture. I saw modern reflections of this attitude in Under The Udala Trees. Galileo's Daughter is a thought-provoking book which certainly made me glad to be alive now rather than then, even though that was just four hundred years ago.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Dava Sobel / Biography and memoir / Books from America


The Bitter TradeThe Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

I received a copy of The Bitter Trade by Piers Alexander from its self-publisher, Tenderfoot, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my third review for Sophie And Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

I was attracted to The Bitter Trade by its time period setting which is an exciting period in English history, and one which I don't yet know too much about. Alexander has created a wily young hero with a great turn of phrase, given him the improbable name of Calumny Spinks, and let him loose on unsuspecting 1680s London. Lots of story threads are entwined and tangled throughout the long novel and I did often find it difficult to keep track of the subterfuges. Perhaps a case of too many competing ideas? The descriptions of places, clothes, attitudes and behaviours are wonderfully vivid, however, and Calumny is a fun character to spend time with. Other characters aren't so convincingly portrayed, but I did like Abigail, Ty and Garric, and also Calumny's father Peter.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Piers Alexander / Historical fiction / Books from England


On the Origin of Free-Masonry: Posthumous Work (Classic Reprint)On the Origin of Free-Masonry by Thomas Paine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the paperback from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I downloaded On The Origin Of Free-Masonry by Thomas Paine when it was the ForgottenBooks free daily download as much to read something by its illustrious author as to gain any insights into the famously secretive organisation. This turned out to be fortunate as Paine doesn't actually give much away! In the thirty-page pamphlet, originally published posthumously in 1810, he briefly discusses Masonry's orientation of Lodges, the sun worship and the Druidic roots of the religious practices, and explains the probable cause of the Masonic famously fanatical secrecy. This isn't a great book to actually learn much, but as a historical curiosity I found it interesting.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Thomas Paine / History / Books from England

Monday, 21 September 2015

The sun shines on Sidmouth Classic Car show

A gloriously sunny Saturday afternoon was probably not the best time to
try and visit seaside towns along the south Devon coast. We set out from our campsite intending to explore Budleigh Salterton, but found that this was the weekend of their Literary Festival and the town was literary-ly full. So we retraced our route back aways and headed for Sidmouth instead. We nearly gave up here too as the car parks in town and on the seafront were packed solid. Instead, I caught sight of a sign that I had misunderstood on the way into town. Weekend Walks doesn't refer to a rambling club. It's the way to the Park And Walk car parks for Sidmouth. This great initiative sees the three Council car park areas turned over to free public parking at weekends to relieve pressure on the already heaving town centre. Most of the pleasant short walk is through a green park towards the seafront.

Once in town, we were firstly surprised by the extent of the croquet
C-type Jaguar 
courts and the number of players enjoying a game. Where other towns go in for bowls, Sidmouth does croquet. I used to play as a child because my grandparents had a croquet set kept at the ready for our visits and, of course, a large enough flat lawn on which to set up the hoops. It's a fun game and I was reminded of the Oxford students we saw playing at Balliol College last summer.

We struck lucky as the Sidmouth Classic Car Show had taken over the cricket club for the day and dozens of vintage vehicles gleamed in the sunshine while live trad jazz played from an outdoor stage. Entry to the show was free with strategically placed donation buckets being shaken by volunteers. Most of the cars were British and European makes although Dave was pleased to get to see a couple of American models too. I forgot to write down the full names of the cars I liked best so I hope just giving the overall make and model doesn't annoy any experts and enthusiasts reading this post. You can always Comment further information at the end!

Austin Seven 
There were two C-type Jaguars, the silver one pictured and a green one as well. I learned that they were developed as racing cars for the Le Mans 24 hour race which a C-type did indeed win. Several automotive clubs turned up en masse an parked together including the Devon Austin Seven Club.

Wolseley 
I liked the colours of the older cars like the Wolseley pictured above and the two tone Riley RMA below. I hadn't known of the make before and there are more pictures of this beautiful car on the Grace's Guide website.

Riley RMA 
The final car that I just had to include, purely for its literary connections to one of my favourite book series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , is this Ford Prefect!

Ford Prefect 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Impressions of Axminster and Honiton in Devon

We spent about an hour each in the Devon towns of Axminster and
The Trafalgar Way 
Honiton on Friday afternoon and I thought I would share my impressions of each with you. We learned that the two towns are not just linked by the A35, but also by the historic Trafalgar Way - a 271 mile journey from Falmouth to London covered in just 37 hours by post chaise in 1805 as Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere carried the news of the English victory against Napoleon Bonaparte and the death in action of Admiral Lord Nelson. Honiton proudly proclaims itself the 8th post-horse change on the commemorative plaque pictured below. I don't think that this route isn't actually a recognised walk or cycleway (yet!), but there is a new cycling sportive event coming up on the 17th October called Ride The Trafalgar Way which comprises of team and solo challenges along all or some of the distance. More details are on the Ride The Trafalgar Way website if you'd like to get involved or cheer the riders along.

Expert craftsmanship is another common theme with Honiton known for
Tiled lace maker mural in Honiton 
its lace making since the mid-1500s and Axminster being synonymous with luxury carpets since 1755. We didn't see carpet shops everywhere and in fact Axminster does seem need to need some TLC as there were empty shopfronts and a high proportion of nearly new, bric a brac and charity shops. One of these did impress us though - a nearly new furniture shop called Waste Not which was offering leather three piece suites for very reasonable prices and most looked practically unused! I also really loved the Apple Tree Gift Shop which is a gallery for over seventy amazingly varied local artists and craftspeople. There are superb embroidered pictures here as well as wooden items, textiles, paintings and enough designs of greetings card that, if I was local, I would regularly be popping in to browse!

Honiton had a more vibrant High Street with lots of independent arty and homewares shops. We counted three butchers, but didn't find a greengrocer. The Ganesha Wholefoods shops are a local chain and we saw them in Axminster, Honiton and will also spot a branch in Sidmouth. They don't have fresh vegetables and are quite light and airy compared to the Aladdin's den feel of Llandovery's Iechyd Da or Lancaster's Single Step, but we found yet another new-to-us brand of tofu to try. This time it's Taifan Smoked Tofu with Almonds and Sesame Seeds.

Flower display in Axminster 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Exploring Exeter makes for a great day out

One of our major reasons for choosing our present campsite,
Alexandro Farto mural in Exeter 
Huntisbeare, is its proximity to Exeter, a city that we both wanted to visit. Our first port of call was the Park and Ride. We are definitely getting the hang of these and Exeter's is particularly good. My return fare was just £2.50 and Dave got a freebie with his bus pass. The seats were super comfortable too and it felt more like travelling on a coach than an everyday bus. There are several stops in the town centre and we jumped off near to a John Lewis on the High Street. Also on the High Street, but several minutes walk away is a Whittards where I stocked up on our new favourite drink: Creme Brulee flavour White Hot Chocolate. It's basically pudding in a mug! I also bought a tub of Dreamtime Instant Tea which I used to drink in my A level days -a good twenty years ago (eeek!). Getting to sleep has been difficult for me recently - probably because I am getting up too late - so I impulse bought the Dreamtime Tea to see if it might help. Nearby, the superb mural pictured above was created by Portuguese artist Alexandro Farto who drew the image onto the wall's plain render and then chipped it away to produce the striking monochrome effect. I haven't been able to find out who the woman is though. Someone local?

We tore ourselves away from the shops, but not before admiring the
Interesting architecture in Exeter 
architecture of some of the old buildings. The upper stories of Lakeland and its neighbour are particularly enchanting and I was disappointed that I couldn't get a good enough photo for you. The street is too narrow to step far enough back. Instead, these two great buildings, which really do sit so closely together, are near to the Cathedral. The red sandstone church on the left is St Martin's, one of the oldest churches in the city which was originally consecrated in 1065 and does still contain some Anglo Saxon stone from this time. There is an amazing variance in architectural styles and periods all around Exeter and especially in the Cathedral area. We saw a fantastic heavily carved wooden door that is about 500 years old and the Exeter Memories website has interesting information about the rest of Cathedral Close.

We had picked up a Visit Exeter booklet while in Tavistock which
Bosses in Exeter Cathedral 
included a page of discount vouchers. One of these was a two-for-one entry into Exeter Cathedral - a good deal and even more so when we were charged at Dave's concession price, not my standard adult! The Cathedral was very interesting and I loved the painted bosses in the vaulted ceiling. There are more than 400 and they are all carved with Gothic images including plants, animals and coats of arms. The lower of the larger bosses in this photo depicts the murder of St Thomas Beckett. The vaulted ceiling is the longest continuous medieval stone vault in the world and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the tip-up seats in the choir stalls are also medieval and are beautifully carved with elephants, a whale, birds and plants. Tombs date from all periods so we saw representations of knights in full armour and in Elizabethan costume. I was fascinated by the astronomical clock, from 1484, which depicts both the moon and the sun in orbit around the earth. In a a biography of Galileo I have just read I learned about his imprisonment by the Catholic Church for suggesting that the earth was Not the centre of the universe and this clock perfectly illustrates the official Church beliefs of the period.

Astronomical clock in Exeter Cathedral 
Lunch was taken down on the Quayside which has been sympathetically
Exeter quayside 
restored and turned into a leisure area. We had a sharing plate of Chilli Nachos at a little cafe called Mango's and just managed to escape an unexpected downpour by shifting tables to be under their huge umbrella. The coffee is good here. After eating, we took a wander along the arches which now house artisan and craft shops. One had a fantastic light designed by Scott Nelmes. The river was quite busy with canoes and rowers and there were a lot of cyclists about too. We walked as far as the canal basin and I understand that there is a pretty flat cycleway, the Exe Trail, from here to Exmouth and plans to continue it right around the Exe Estuary as far as Dawlish.

Back up the hill again, Dave mentioned visiting the Exeter Phoenix, an
arts centre which is currently hosting a modern art exhibition, The Exeter Contemporary Open. To be honest, much of the work was hit and miss for us although we did like Mimei Thompson's oil paintings and Henny Acloque's acrylic works. I was very taken with a video installation of pendula by McGilvary White entitled Things That Swing. I think the sound effects are perfect! We also got to view a photographic exhibition of Independents Of Exeter, photographed by Vanessa Miles, which highlighted local small businesses and celebrated the inauguration of the Exeter Pound - an initiative to keep local money spent locally.

After all that art and culture, we needed our reviving chai latte and chocolate milkshake at Caffe Espresso which is a cute little place just opposite the castle - well worth the quick walk from the High Street to get there. We did then have some trouble finding the right stop for our bus back and were exhausted by the time we got back home.

Exeter's history in a single mural