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Archive for the ‘Landscapes’ Category

I was given a tip to stop by the York Sculpture Park while traveling from Leeds back to London. Husband and I had some time to spare and thought, why not?

I wasn’t expecting anything major, maybe something along the lines of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas. I was surprised to find that this place was so expansive and impressive. We ended up spending the whole day exploring the grounds and exhibits.

 

York Sculpture Park is just one mile from Junction 38 of the M1 and is open daily except 24 & 25 December. Admission is free, parking is £5. 

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Leroy and Mariah were both in town visiting. We were at a pub looking through our travel guides  and trying to decide what exactly it was we wanted to do with our week. The contrasts were stark.  Husband was completely embarrassed by our public display of tourism. Mariah, ever the planner, had her wheels spinning. Laid-back Leroy was agreeing to every suggestion without too much enthusiasm. That is, until we mentioned visiting a few monoliths. The Discovery Channel buff in him suddenly perked up and Mariah and I knew we had to make it happen.

Since Stonehenge is a little cliche and Mariah and I had already been there, we decided to visit Avebury. Word was that it was better and the oldest stone circle in Europe. The stone circles are multiple in number, more accessible and integrated into the town. In fact, the town is built inside these massive stone circles.

Luck was with us as the sun was shining for our drive out to Avebury. We parked the car and quickly found the main attraction: strategically placed large stones. Although Avebury does not carry the iconic image that Stonehenge has blazed in our collective consciousness, the sheer number of stones and organization was much greater than that of Stonehenge.

Avebury

After a bit of walking around the stones we headed into the museum. I needed context for what we were viewing. The staff at the museum was a breathe of fresh air. Tourist sites have a tendency to make one feel like cattle. The people at Avebury seemed generally excited to have our company. It was a bit like dating the sister of the prom queen.

A walk through the stones.

Let’s consult Wikipedia for historical background.

Constructed around 2600 BCE, during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

It’s wild to think about someone chopping down this ancient stone arrangement to build onto their house. I guess it felt silly to go in search of new raw materials when these had been delivered right to your doorstep. Plus, the historical nature of the stones may not have been widely understood or respected in the Late Medieval and Early Modern times.

Stone Marked Road

One thing about Avebury that I absolutely can not recommend is the Red Lion Pub in the village. The service was more than atrocious, it was comical.  The food was just plain bad. They were out of half the menu. I don’t know how you mess up fried food that badly but the chips were terrible. We were treated like an annoyance by the kid behind the bar. They forgot to bring our dessert. They were out of coffee cups. Not out of coffee, just out of vessels (for there or to go) to hold it in because they had a rush of visitors a few days earlier. Not that morning. Not yesterday. A few DAYS earlier. Yeah, it didn’t make sense to me either.

Do not eat here.

Constructed around 2600 BCE,[1] during the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’, the monument comprises of a large henge, surrounded by a bank and a ditch. Inside this henge is a large outer stone circle, with two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is not known, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremonial usage. The Avebury monument was a part of a larger prehistoric landscape containing several older monuments nearby, including West Kennet Long Barrow and Silbury Hill.

In the Late Mediaeval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones in the monument, and a village was built in the centre of it. The antiquarians John Aubrey and William Stukeley however took an interest in Avebury, and recorded much of the site before its destruction. Archaeologists proceeded to excavate at the site in the 20th century.

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This is the time of the year when the Texas Highway Department forgoes all mowing and the roadsides become covered with fields of bluebonnets. The long car rides between Texas cities don’t seem so dreary anymore. You have more to look forward to than a kolache at the Czech Stop in the small town of West.

On Saturday and Sunday afternoons you see cars of couples, families and friends with their children and dogs pull over to the highway shoulder and begin snapping away with their camera. Everyone who grew up in Texas has pictures of themselves in a field of bluebonnets somewhere. If they say they don’t, they are lying. Or maybe an orphan.

I remember the year it rained continuously and the next spring was a shocking blast of early blue blooms. Standing in front of the sea of blue, sunshine warm, weather still cool enough, it’s hard to think of things that could make you happier. Probably because it’s hard to think of anything else at all.

It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The short but gruff winter is over and there is a promise of halcyon outdoor days  before the brutal summer turns water side activity into a necessity. Winter and the corresponding Seasonal Affective Disorder is now so far away. All things are right again in Texas.

 

Texas summer survival.

“My fervent hope is that our homes, roadsides, parks – both community and industrial – and public spaces will provide a home for our wildflowers and other native plants where they can provide economic benefits and add to the eye and spirit of their beholders.” – Lady Bird Johnson

Lady Bird Johnson, picture not mine.

That’s former first lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson. She’s a Texas hero of mine. I image if there was an afterlife that her and former Texas governor Ann Richards would be hanging out swapping stories of Texas politics and having a damn good time.

 

The incredible Ann Richards. Picture also not mine.

Lady Bird was responsible for the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. It’s intent was to control outdoor advertising and junk on the side of the road. It was met with a lot of opposition. Today Texas roadsides are obviously a compromise but it is a sight when the bluebonnets come out.

I was bummed when I realized I was going to miss out on the wildflowers this year. This was before I knew about the daffodils. I was walking through Green Park one day and all of a sudden they were there. Little yellow buds telling me  winter was nearly over. Now the daffodils are everywhere. People stop in the park to have their photos taken with their friends, families, children and dogs.

 

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit A

Daffodil Portraiture, Exhibit B

It’s even more stunning when nobody warns you that they are coming, they just appear. It’s a symbol that the days are fleeting. The long and gray winter with it’s cabin fever, roast dinners and endless cup of teas is coming to an end. There is a promise of a short but halcyon summer surrounded by a cool fall and spring. All things are right again in London.

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Last weekend Boyfriend and I got a text from Flora asking us if we wanted to go on a boat ride down Regent’s Canal to celebrate Jam’s 30th birthday. The weather had been amazing all week and I had been dying to do something like this. Unfortunately the weather nose dived just in time for our Saturday outing. It was cloudy with sparse sun, but at least it didn’t rain.

We rode the Boris bikes up to King’s Cross area, which ended up being a bit of a nightmare. The first docking station we tried didn’t work at all, we got lost along the way, and we ran into trouble when we tried to hot dock the bikes at 30 minutes. Apparently you have to wait five minutes before taking out a new bike. I was beginning to regret waxing lyrical about the scheme on a previous post.

We finally made it to the canal with groceries and cider on hand. After a bit of putting around, we had a boat full of people and were ready to take off.

The journey begins.

Our location required us to go through a lengthy tunnel. This was at first very exciting, but after a while turned very cold.

A chilly tunnel

What a relief to literally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Tunnel's end.

A canal trip provides views and perspectives otherwise not seen. Check out the reflection of the industrial buildings on the water and the contrast of the greenery draping off the tree.

Along Regent's Canal

But it wasn’t all about the views. There was much conversation and baby passing too.

Tania and Rowan (Flora and Jam's adorable son)

As our journey continued, we all got a crash course in canal lock operation. I imagine this is a really tough journey to make with one or two people. The locks aren’t hard to operate, but they are heavy. Transportation via canal isn’t the quickest way of getting around. It’s pace, however, is part of the charm.

Baby in one hand, lock operation instruction with the other.

Lock operation

Keiran

Onward through the lock

With lock operation skills under our belt, we continued along the canal. We saw lots of people out fishing. I’m not sure I’d want to eat anything I caught along this canal. Any thoughts out there on that?

Think he catches any fish?

My love and fascination for gas holders as dramatic backdrop continues.

Gasholder

Other random things you see along the canal? How about a pimp and his banana. No I’m not joking.

Oh you want to get to Victoria Park? Just pass the gasholder and around the corner from the guy pimping the banana.

There was some slight drama as we approached the last lock. We didn’t have the right key to get through. The crowds had thinned so we couldn’t ask for help from fellow boaters and phone calls to friends who might have a spare were futile. I think someone ended up purchasing a key from the lock keeper. Don’t ask me how he was tracked down. In the meantime, we moored up and passed the time easily.

Ahoy, matey.

Good times.

An afternoon’s trip down the canal left us on the east end where Boyfriend and I had the boat pull over so that we could jump out, wave goodbye and catch public transportation home. It was all in good timing, as Rowan and I were at the same energy level.

Rowan's Boat Life

Thanks Jam and Flora for a fun trip and Happy 30th Jam!

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I had the opportunity to take a helicopter ride from the Cotswolds to Blackbush airport.  I had been on a helicopter once before and by the end of the experience, I was left nauseated from a bad case of flicker vertigo. I was desperately crawling out towards the ground as soon as we touched down. Needless to say, I was a bit nervous this time around. I managed to suck it in, strap on the seat belt, and was pleasantly surprised that this time the ride was smooth and easy. I was able to enjoy myself and snap a few photos of the green and gold quilt patches that make up the landscape.

I hope you enjoy them.

Aerial View of English Countryside

Aerial View of English Countryside

My Lovely Pilot

Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. Birthplace of Winston Churchill

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