Friday 18th November 2005
Refreshed in mind and body – it was time to get back on the road again and resume the root-exploration and touring combination.
So on a fine but chilly (-2°) morning, I set off for Bristol where I had planned to meet up with some of the expatriate NZ Butlers. I took the opportunity to call into Hereford, where this time I did succeed in finding a parking spot near the Cathedral. You’ll be pleased to hear, Bernice, that I made it to the Cathedral, the Chained Library and, of course, the Mappa Mundi. What an amazing piece – and not only because of that Sciapod and its enormous foot. The drawings of the figures – human and otherwise – look decidedly modern and could for all the world have been drawn by Leunig!
Whether or not it is a result of Cathedral overload, I was less taken by Hereford than some of the others I’ve visited over the past few weeks. Having said that, the map and the library were enough on their own to justify the detour.
Then on to Bristol, by way of a very busy Ross-on-Wye and a very cold, foggy Forest of Dean. That particular diversion turned out to be one of my less happy choices because it meant that I again arrived in a city I didn’t know, in the dark, at peak hour with only a vague idea of where the hotel was. I did eventually find it though that was no thanks to the directions of a helpful (?) tow-truck driver who directed me to another Marriott (the existence of which I was unaware). Another remedial drink was called for on my eventual arrival at the right one!
Saturday 19th November 2005
Paul and Kerry picked me up in the morning for the long-planned Butler family reunion. It was great to meet Paul’s wife, Carola, and “just walking” son, Simon – and to see Kathy and her two girls, Haley and Rachael, again. For those of you not in the know, so to speak, Kerry, Kathy and Paul are three of my late brother Dick’s five children. After lunch, Kerry and Paul went off to watch the All Blacks v England match on a pub TV while I caught up with Kathy’s news and got to know Carola and the children a little better. That this included a walk with them in the park in a thickening fog and bracing 2° chill shows how well I’m preparing myself for Boston at Christmas.
Carola’s yummy dinner – complemented by a bottle of good NZ red – helped ward off the chill and, of course, mark the All Black’s “close thing” win before Kathy, who was staying overnight at that other Marriott, delivered me back to mine. Getting together like that made it just a great day, and I’ve promised we’ll do it again before I head home.
Sunday 20th November 2005
The fog that shrouded Bristol on the Saturday night of our get-together was still there on Sunday morning – as, of course, was the chill. So a late, late breakfast before braving the elements to view “SS Great Britain”, the world’s first purpose-built iron-hulled, propeller-driven steam passenger liner! Now there’s a mouthful – even for me! The concierge said it was just a short walk away. He was right about the “walk”, but not “the just a short” bit, particularly at 0°! But in the end, it was worth it.
Designed by Brunel and launched in 1843 she carried thousands of emigrants to the USA and to Australia and is the only surviving troop ship from the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. Rescued from the Falkland Islands in 1970, she now lies in the very dry-dock that was built for her construction.
A major – for which read, very expensive – conservation programme, aimed at long term preservation of the ship’s original iron hull structure has been completed; and work continues to restore the interior to how it was when she was a luxury liner. You can see what they are trying to do, but it will need a lot more work, design help and money before that’s achieved. Nonetheless, you do get a feel for what sailing on her would have been like, but that’s more a result of the audio guide than the refurbishing which, to my eyes, was quite amateurish. Despite that, I spent over two hours there – and that wasn’t just because of a reluctance to face the chilly walk back.
A bonus, however, was the opportunity to visit the replica of the John Cabot’s “Matthew” which is berthed next to the “SS Great Britain”. It was on this tiny ship (with a displacement of only 85 tonnes) that Cabot made an exploratory voyage from Bristol to North America (for which read, Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland, Labrador or Maine) in 1497.
Monday 21st November 2005
On Monday morning I moseyed around Wells – another of those small, old and welcoming sorts of towns/cities and spent a considerable time at the Cathedral there.
While the unusual – and I gather famous – “scissor arches” put in place a century after the cathedral was consecrated to stabilise the structure when a heightened tower caused some of the supporting pillars to sink, were impressive, as was the, also famous, “clock”, my favourite would have to have been the Chapter House with its soaring central pillar.
My intention to visit the adjoining Bishop’s Palace were dashed however when I discovered it was closed on Mondays only at this time of the year.
Given my recent errors of judgement in arriving in new places after dark, I set off for Devon immediately after a late lunch at the Cathedral’s “Cloister Café”. What was called quiche, and looked like quiche regrettably didn’t taste like quiche, and I’d probably have been better with a cup of tea, a Bex and a good lie down. Whatever it was, it did however sustain me until my almost stress-less arrival in Tiverton – in daylight!
Tuesday 22nd November 2005
With a grey, bleak and dismal day on which the fog didn’t lift at all and access to a WiFi hotspot, I took no persuading to stay indoors and resume my on-line search for the elusive Sean D. and Janet C. Butlers, distant cousins distantly removed. I found any number of Seans but not, I fear, the one that I was looking for. If I can’t track down a Janet on the English registry, I may have to wait until I visit Scotland in the New Year and search their registry in Edinburgh – which for births after 1904, marriages after 1929 and deaths after 1956, unfortunately, cannot be done on-line. Patience now, Norm!
Wednesday 23rd November 2005
A clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine greeted me as I went out to the car on Wednesday morning in readiness for my drive across to West Sussex for the start of my sweep across to Cornwall! What also greeted me was frost, frost and more frost and, if the car’s thermometer was to believed – minus 2°! Armed with my newly-acquired 65p ice-scraper – thanks for the advice, Roger – it wasn’t too long before I could see out of the windscreen, but long enough to have to then sit on my hands to restore the circulation. A good story, but untrue!
The drive itself which was only 140 or so miles it took 30 minutes more than the 5 hours the route-mapping software had calculated, but that was probably due to my making a left rather than a right turn when crossing the M5 – and that’s certainly no place to be “chucking a u-turn”! Although there were some stretches of road (including the M5, of course) where thick fog slowed me if nobody else, for the most part it was an enjoyable drive in full sunlight along minor roads and through just beautiful countryside.
And “The Roundabout” at West Chiltington (which, by the way, is nowhere near a roundabout) is everything a country hotel should be – whitewashed walls, dark beams, blazing fires, creaky floors and a steak and kidney pudding to die for, all wrapped up in the warmest of welcomes.
Thursday 24th November 2005
Thursday was grey and dismal but with drizzle rather than the rain that had been forecast…and at 3° this morning, really quite balmy. A day of contrasting sights and sensations: Chichester and its cathedral and the Military Aviation Museum at Tangmere. The timing of my visit to the Cathedral could have been better as an extended service meant that the area in which the Chagall window and the Graham Sutherland painting are located was “off-limits”.
I didn’t feel inclined to wait another 45 minutes or so until the service ended, so I’ll just have to add them to my “next time” list.
To my eyes, the Cathedral itself is somewhat unwelcoming, being stark and a little cold – an impression I trust was not too influenced by not being able to see it all. If nothing else, I was, however, able to pay due homage at the memorial to Gustav Holst.
Having visited the RAF Museum at Duxford when I was in London, I really only called into Tangmere because it was on my way back from Chichester. It couldn’t have been more different. While there were a number of aircraft on display (many on loan from the RAF Museum), this Museum is much more about the people who flew and served in the RAF, with special emphasis on the RAF at Tangmere and the air war over southern England from 1939 to 1945.
Unlike Duxford, it is run by volunteers, many of whom were wartime RAF pilots, navigators and ground crew – and they were very much in evidence today. Given the Museum’s relatively narrow focus, the collection comprises a large, eclectic – and not particularly well-organised – mix of photographs, uniforms, pilots’ log books, medals, aircraft models in their hundreds, paintings and equipment of various sorts (engines, bomb aiming sights, life-rafts, aerial cameras and the like). Given the obvious lack of financial resources, the collection also included a surprising array of interactive displays that children would just love, many clearly built by the volunteers themselves.
I remember being impressed by Duxford, Tangmere engaged me – not least I suspect because it was so personal.
Friday 25th November 2005
Minus 2° again this morning, but brilliantly clear. Having heard so much about Brighton it seemed to make sense to visit while I was in the area. My navigation skills must be improving because I found the Royal Pavilion with relatively little difficulty and, surprisingly, undercover parking within 3 minutes walk. I knew the exterior of the Pavilion was “over the top” and even the scaffolding erected around some of it did nothing to alter that view.
I expected the interior to be likewise and it was; but whether it was the rather offhand attitude of the staff, the lack of an audio-guide, the extremely low light levels or what could only be described as an excuse for a tour guide leaflet, it did nothing for me at all!
I had planned to spend at least an hour or two there but managed less than 45 minutes. Although still decidedly chilly, the 45 minute or so promenade along the seafront in full sun was infinitely more pleasing! Then off to Portsmouth where I’ll be spending the next three nights – and about which you just may hear in a later update!