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The trip that nearly wasn’t.

The trip that nearly wasn’t.

Wednesday 21st March

The London weather forecast from the Meteorological Office for tomorrow (Thursday) is sunny all day and we believe them don't we? A trip to London tomorrow sounds possible.

Thursday 22nd March

Up early ready for our trip to London and Amanda listens to the travel news on the radio. Oh oh! There is overhead wire damage on the railway south of us so there are no trains for part of our journey and buses are being used as a substitute. There is also an accident on the A12 causing considerable congestion and, guess what, the buses are using the A12.

A bulletin a little later says that the overhead wires should be repaired by 7:30 AM. We don't think that there's much chance of that so we prepare to cancel our trip but are still listening to the travel bulletins.

About 30 minutes before we'd normally leave for the station we see that our usual train has been cancelled but, surprise surprise, the trains are starting to run again after that with possible delays of up to 1 hour on the journey. We decide to chance it and go for the train after our normal one which leaves 30 minutes later.

We arrive on the platform of our local station 15 minutes before our train is due to arrive and five minutes later a train arrives. An extra train has been put into service and it gets us to Liverpool Street Station without any delays. Hoorah, we made it after all.

We walk, in sunshine, to the Guildhall Art Gallery (entry is free) where we descend into darkness, well very nearly darkness. We are going to see the remains of the Roman Amphitheatre discovered when the Art Gallery was being built. These remains are from the eastern entrance to the amphitheatre.

It was long suspected that Londinium must have had an amphitheatre but it wasn't until 1988 that these remains were discovered during excavations prior to building the new Guildhall Art Gallery. Excavations of the remains continued until 1996 when it was declared an Ancient Monument and the designs for the Art Gallery had to be revised to preserve the remains in situ.

This was our first view of the remains. The green pattern of lines at the back is meant to represent rows of bench seating in the amphitheatre proper – we are in the eastern entrance remember.

Having wandered along to the far end where the amphitheatre would have been we looked back to see this view.

Having had a good look round the amphitheatre remains we went back upstairs to look at the Art Gallery. It is very nicely laid out and has some amazing pictures some of which are shown here together with Amanda looking out from a gallery at a mega-picture of her illustrious ancestor.

This is that very picture and he's the chappie on the horse – General George Elliot, defender of Gibralter when the spanish tried, and failed, to lay siege to it. Amanda's grandmother was an Elliot.

I thought that this painting was particulary interesting as it was of the grand opening of Tower Bridge. Looks to be quite a celebratory affair.

We left the Guildhall Art Gallery and emerged into the sunshine. Yes it was still sunny. We now headed south for the River Thames and St. Catherine's Dock. We had been to St. Catherine's Dock before and there are pictures on the web site to prove it but this time it was just a starting point for our planned route.

As we went past the Old Stock Exchange we went in for a quick look. It has now been converted to an upmarket shopping centre and Cafe.

We continued on to St. Catherine's Dock by Tower Bridge and set off on our route shown on the map below as a black dotted line. The green area on the left edge is the Tower of London.

Most of that route, you may notice, is along what used to be a canal but is now no longer navigable because it is blocked at both ends and has new housing along its length which does make a nice setting and probably isn't cheap.

Remember the weather forecast? Sunny all day. Notice that although there are a few patches of blue sky there is now some significant cloud appearing.

Part the way along that route we came to the location marked '1'. You couldn't really miss it because there are what appear to be two large, old sailing ships parked next to the canal. They are full size replicas of real ships.

The Three Sisters is a replica of a 330 ton ship built at Blackwall Yard in 1788, which traded until 1854, taking manufactured goods to the East & West Indies and returned with tobacco & spices.

The Sea Lark is a copy of an 18th century American built schooner, which ran the blockade and was captured by the Admiralty during the Anglo-American War in 1812-14. The public cannot get on to these ships.

So what is this place? It is:

We noticed by now that the sun was covered in a layer of thin cloud. It was possible to see where the sun was because of the very bright patch in the sky but the light was very diffuse. Meteorological Office weather forecasts – don't make me laugh.

The story of Tobacco Dock hasn't finished yet. When this area was originally developed in early nineteenth century the site covered 30 acres and specialised in high-value luxury goods such as ivory, spices, coffee and cocoa as well as wine, tobacco and wool, all stored in elegant warehouses and cellars. Tobacco Dock was one part of this scheme.

In 1990, after investing 47 million pounds converting the old warehouse, it was re-opened as a shopping centre. Soon after it was hit by a recession and soon went into receivership and closed. Over 20 years later it is still closed although properly maintained. You can see the building to the right of the ships beyond the gates. The old warehouse which comprises the main part of the shopping centre is now a grade 1 listed building.

We left Tobacco Dock and continued our route to location '2' on the map. This is Shadwell Basin the largest area of open water remaining from the old London Docks.

You can see the towers of Canary Wharf in the distance. This is another old dock which has been converted to upmarket accommodation.

There are two old lifting bridges at each end of the basin and this is the one nearest the River Thames. You can see that Canary Wharf, the tall tower blocks, are really not far away.

We turned round and started back and noticed this view which we hadn't noticed on the way out. Looks quite imposing doesn't it?

We also saw this old water level gauge which runs from 16 to 24 feet – you do speak Roman don't you?.

On the way back along St. Catherine's Way we saw Alderman's Steps but have been unable, so far, to find out why they are so called.

So that was the end of our trip that nearly wasn't. Perhaps we'll get better weather next time. We want to do that same walk again to see some things that we missed but I'm not going to tell you what they were and to, hopefully, get some better photographs.

We do some boring things don't we?


Oxon-Hants-Wilts: A holy house and a giant stairway.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: A holy house and a giant stairway.

Day 2 – Monday 17th August 2009

The hotel didn’t serve meals in the evening on a Sunday (yesterday) so we bought a Chinese Take Away and ate it in our room.

We spent a good night in a very comfortable bed. There was no apparent noise except when the traffic started to move in the early morning and that was only an occasional vehicle.

Breakfast was available in a room opposite the bar which had been, at one time, a Pizza Bar and was apparently now used only for breakfast. It was a pleasant enough room with most food laid out buffet style except for the cooked part which was cooked to order. The cooked breakfast was actually very good with a wide choice of items. The buffet was also very good and included fruit juices, cereals, fruit and pastries.

It was becoming obvious by now that, generally, there was only one person on duty at a time and they were expected to serve breakfast and look after reception. However the staff were unfailingly pleasant and well trained.

We left the hotel after breakfast bound for Lacock in Wiltshire. The journey took about an hour and just before we reached Lacock we drove round a bend onto the edge of the high ground we’d been on and there was Lacock in the valley below. Luckily there was an empty layby which enabled us to stop to take this picture. Lacock village and abbey are immediately above the red brick house in the foreground.

We drove on to Lacock, parked in the National Trust car park (free to members) and walked into the village. The National Trust own both the village and the abbey.

When we started out from Andover the sky was covered in thin cloud with an occasional blue patch showing but now the cloud had thickened with no blue sky at all. That makes photographs look very gloomy as you can see from one of the first photographs I took in the village from the churchyard.

Whilst we were having lunch the cloud became much more broken and after lunch I took the same photograph again.

Doesn’t that look much nicer than the first?

For the time being we’ll go back to our cloudy morning. As well as looking round the village we wanted to see Laycock Abbey (National Trust). Photographs in the house are generally not permitted but in parts of the original abbey, such as the cloisters, photographs are permitted and it wouldn’t matter what the weather was like outside.

On the way to the abbey we went in to this 15th Century Tithe Barn in the village. Quite an impressive structure.

Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 as a nunnery but was, of course, dissolved by Henry VIII and in 1539 it was sold and converted into a private home. The medieval cloisters were retained and, apparently, have been used in the Harry Potter films.

One of the most famous inhabitants of the abbey was William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) inventor of the negative/positive photographic process. In 1835 he created the first known example of a photographic negative taken of an oriel window in the abbey. I wonder what he would have though of my digital single lens reflex?

This shows part of the south side of the abbey with the main entrance.

After looking around the abbey we went back to the village, now that the sun was out, where I was able to take some better photographs. If only all the streets were this clear of parked vehicles. Even this street was clogged with parked vehicles earlier in the day and just chanced to be clear on this occasion.

Most of the streets seem to be clogged with parked cars and vans most of the time. The village has been used many times in ‘period’ films at which time, so I understand, all the vehicles are cleared away. I wasn’t so lucky.

There are some nice old buildings here including this one behind the church which is now a pottery although I don’t know what it might have been earlier. This area is called the Tanyard which may give a clue as to its original use.

Having seen all that we thought we could see we started back for Andover but we intended to stop off just this side of Devizes to see something unusual.

This is part of the Kennet and Avon Canal and each of those little white footbridges delineates a lock – 16 in all in this giant stairway. On this stretch of the canal there are 29 locks in the space of two miles of which this section is the most impressive.

There is a car park at the top which is where we parked and I walked all the way down for this photograph and now I’m going to have to walk all the way back up. Part the way up I met some narrowboats coming down. This one is waiting for the water level to drop so that they can then move into the next lock down.

This narrowboat is moving out of one lock into the next. The process of negotiating all 16 locks in the stairway takes, I believe, two to three hours.

I rendered some slight assistance at one lock by opening one of the two gates. This is done by leaning back against the arm and pushing with one’s feet. The little radiused brick path has raised sections so that it’s possible to get a good grip with one’s feet. Having done my good deed for the day we continued onward and upward.

Just before we reached the top I spotted this heron perched on an inflatable barrier on one of the large side ponds. A very handy fishing platform.

From here we return to the Danebury Hotel in Andover where we are prepared to try one of their evening meals. I suppose it’s only an evening meal from our point of view as they appear to serve cooked food all day.

On our return we discovered that the only place we can eat is the Public Bar which we share with three coin-in-the-slot gaming machines covered in flashing lights, a giant television, a pool table, loudish ‘background’ music and numerous gentlemen with heavily tatooed bare arms.

Ah well it’s worth a try.  The food turned out to be pretty average and not as good as one might expect in many pubs these days. One of the men in the bar apologised for another’s bad language which neither of us actually noticed but thought it was a nice gesture.

Looking around at the various signs in the bar area it appears that they are catering specifically for the heavy drinking fraternity with such as ‘Buy two glasses of wine and get the whole bottle’ sort of thing. Their main trade is apparently on Friday and Saturday nights when, thankfully, we shall be long gone.

The meal passed uneventfully but we decided not to eat there on our third night.

Tomorrow we hope will be in-spiring.

Cups, Locks and Ducks

Cups, Locks and Ducks

Yesterday was a bright sunny day, although a bit windy, so we decided to go to Heybridge Basin near Maldon and walk along the river wall. Having parked the car we walked the short distance along the Chelmsford and Blackwater Navigation (canal) to the Lock Tearooms where we had cups of coffee before we started our walk. This little tearoom provides good food albeit with a limited choice.

We set off on our walk going across the top of the lock gates

to be able to continue along the river wall. The stiff breeze, now that we were in the open on top of the river wall, turned into a strong wind although it wasn’t really cold. There were plenty of ducks and wading birds about – some walking across the exposed mud (it was low tide) and some gathered in small groups and some in large flocks on the mud banks out in the river.

Some were too far away, even with binoculars, for us to identify but we did see Curlew, Wigeon, Teal and Knot . I took this picture of Maldon on the other side of the river and the line of white birds on the water’s edge included Avocets and Shelduck. I have included a link to this photograph because it’s too large a picture to be included on the page. Picure link

Having walked nearly to Heybridge we changed tack, headed across to the canal and over the bridge onto the towpath on the other side. It was then just a matter of following the path, past a few people fishing and back to the car. A nice walk and a bit of exercise on a sunny December day.