THE MANY LIVES OF LV18

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How long does it take to bring a ship to her moorings? Seventeen years in the case of lightship LV18!

A request for a permanent berth at Harwich docks for this grand old dame was turned down repeatedly in a protracted battle wth the local council; a fight only won once the original councillors ‘left’.

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Who knew that a lighthouse boat turned film star could cause such a furore?

By chance my husband and I happened upon this vessel whilst walking along the docks in Harwich one sunny Saturday. How could we refuse the kind invitation issued by 93-year-old Lord Bill of Sealand to climb on board and explore! (He later told us his amazing life story which I may recount in another post.)

Scanning the various signs I was reminded of the start of Superman – what is it? A lighthouse? A Pirate Radio Ship?  A museum? LV18 is a unique combination of all three.

Not knowing what to expect I eagerly trod the board to the deck … one unexpected discovery can be read in my earlier post Flowers Ahoy!

Stepping warily, mindful of the odd sway from the sudden swells, I headed to the top deck, past the helicopter pad, right up to the giant light on the top.

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The view across the Orwell estuary was beautiful, looking towards Felixstowe on the other side.

LV18 was launched in 1958 and sailed with nine crew and anchored along the coast as a lighthouse boat protecting mariners through the dangerous waters.

 

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This unique historic ship, decommissioned in 1994, is the only surviving light vessel with all its original accommodation still intact, including the crew quarters, galley, mess room … all visible to view but with an additional surprise!

In 1999 a man with a vision, Tony O’Neal, chartered the boat for restoration and LV18 started its second life. This time recapturing the era of the famous Pirate Radios moored in international waters off the East Coast of East Anglia in the 1960s. A couple of you in the comments have already picked up on the Radio Mi Amigo twitter to whom I credited the last photo in my previous blog — the name of Radio Caroline’s ship.

With streaming, youtube, DAB radio readily available with a click, it’s hard to believe there was a time when music, all variety of music, was not easily or widely available. Or even banned and illegal. Try to imagine only three radio stations in the UK which were tightly monitored and served the ‘establishment’ and only permitted up to an hours pop music a day.

In a country hungry for the latest pop songs, the general populace turned increasingly to radio stations outside the country. First Radio Luxembourg, then pirate radio ships. These became the starting ground for many famous DJs including John Peel & Tony Blackburn, all who would embark on small launches from Harwich to take them to the pirate radio boats moored three miles out to sea. At one stage these stations had around 15 million listeners altogether. A very worrying figure for the government of the time. The last pirate radio station was closed in 1967 as pirate broadcasting was declared illegal. BBC Radio 1 started soon afterwards, ironically staffed with a number of ex-pirate radio DJs.

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In the first decade of this century LV18 was moored off Harwich and the Radio Mi Amigo days were recreated as well as being a Community radio station for the area. In 2002 its ownership transferred to the Pharos Trust whose patron is Johnnie Walker, ex-pirate DJ from Radio Caroline who was subsequently on Radio 1.

Only in 2011 was LV18 granted a permanent mooring in Harwich and it became home to a permanent exhibition of Pirate Radio memorabilia.

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And what about the film star reference? Well, LV18 made a brief appearance in the DVD version of ‘The Boat That Rocked’. Of course, once back home I just had to watch the film. It gives a fantastic exposition of life onboard this wild, on the edge, lifestyle where music played until the very end!

My husband would not forgive me if I did not finish this post with the last song to be played on Radio London which was ‘A Day in the Life’ by the Beatles.

Finally, no day trip in Harwich is complete without a meal at The Pier Hotel & Restaurant where we enjoyed a delightful, early wedding anniversary meal. It was special to look out to the LV18 on which we’d just spent a wonderful couple of hours!

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AN ILLUMINATING ART

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I traveled through the centuries on my recent visit to the UK’s only Stained Glass Museum, located in Ely Cathedral. Over 1,000 examples of stained glass windows are held in their collection dating back to the 14th Century, although the craft is thought to have originated in the late 600s.

All topics are explored from the religious to everyday life, from science to farming, from nature to portraiture. The techniques vary enormously as new skills were introduced over time and the differences will be evident in the photos.  The concepts and trends changed dramatically during the centuries.

The introductory window above is a contemporary design entitled Inner Space (1979). This blended art and science and is an interpretation of electron photomighraph of hydra tissue (micro-organism). It illustrates many various techniques of modern design including texturing, acid-etching, tracing as well as traditional leading.

These three traditional -style windows are 600 years apart in age but look as striking and vibrant as ever. Furthest left is Geometric Grisaille (1200-1250s) which is a design expressing the simplicity of the Cistercian monastic ideal and aided the meditation for the monks. The middle panel, The Dawning of the Last Day (1871), is unusual in that it was designed by a clergyman in memory of his father and noticeably moved away from the Gothic Revival towards original motifs. The last of three, The Good Shepherd (1867), uniquely weaves together a painterly style of the figure with the gothic revival surrounds of the rich foliage.

The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement is evident in the window furthest left. Fathers of the Church (1904) depicts St. Augustine, Venerable Bede and St. Cuthbert. The next two windows were commissioned as part of the revival and popularity of stained glass windows in the 1800s and there was a push to return to the ‘True Principle’ of Gothic style windows. The Dance of Solomon (1856), formerly within Ely cathedral, is a lively panel, and one of four depicting St John the Baptist’s life, and martyrdom. The Arms of Queen Margaret of Anjou (c.1840) was designed by a heraldic scholar to blend the arms of 15-year-old Margaret who married Henry VI.

The Typography Panel (c.1930) was most likely a sampler created to demonstrate letter writing on glass, and the use of painted cross-hatching is clearly evident. To the right, this fish experimental piece (1950s) makes effective use of flashed glass and acid-etching within its two layers (to add depth) of pink and blue glass.

Angels are the common factor for these first two windows. Inspired by William Morris and his circle who hoped to rescue the decorative arts from commercialisation and industrial methods of production, the first window is one of two entitled Angel Musicians (1910-1912). It was influenced by famous late 19th-century designers when angel figures were typical of the Italianate style. The centre panel was created 400 years earlier and the Angel Musician (1440-80) shows a unique style of painting particular to the Norfolk area in the UK, which through its riches of the woollen trade produced the majority of stained glass windows at the time. The Annunciation of the Virgin (c.1340) is the oldest of the three panels and created in an era of illiteracy when religious education involved painted windows. It is the finest example of English glass painting of the ‘Decorated’ Gothic style.

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Roundels have existed as a form of stained glass windows since their inception. The most modern is self-explanatory entitled Five Victorian Studios (1987). The opulent roundel of gold shows The Suicide of Charondas of Catanea (c.1530) and establishes the theme of justice as he broke his own laws and thereafter committed suicide. It was most likely produced in the Netherlands which was famous for its thousand or so small and exquisite roundels. The last of the three windows heralds from a church in Burgandy, northern France. St. Vincent on the Gridiron (c.1225-50) is part of a narrative by Gothic glass painters and depicts St. Vincent’s suffering for his faith as he is roasted on a gridiron.

These final three windows are from the very early days of stained glass window design. The central panel, Peasant Figure (c.1340-49), was once part of a large and important window in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral and at one stage it would have been richly decorated. It is highly unusual for the mere figure of a peasant to be depicted in a glass window. Also rarely created were windows for patrons, which is the case of Donors of William and Matilda Cele (1350-1400) who ensured the survival of their name and contribution for 700 years and onwards. The bird in Bird Quarry is slightly older and produced in the 15th-century. These simple diamond shaped quarries were made in their thousands using white glass, glass painting and silver stain. They often depicted animals with amusing human motifs; here the robin is shown carrying a rosary.

Along one wall of the exhibition, there were mock-up models of stained glass studios showing the various stages of creating a window and some of these are pictured below.

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All photos ©Annika Perry

Credit for post title to The Stained Glass Museum guide which uses this as a chapter heading.

10,527 STEPS

20180128_152729The first 100 or so Steps

In the quiet hush that can only signify a Sunday morning, my husband and I enjoyed the rare luxury of a breakfast together, exchanging small gifts and cards, before heading to the car for our day’s outing.

Twenty years ago we met for the first time and this was an occasion to be marked. We’d pondered how a few days earlier. Should we replicate the evening itself? That involved a flurry of pubs visits, one so empty and dull the security guards outnumbered the guests, the other so packed we sat like sardines on sunken sofas, embedded within the aged fabric. Even through rose-tinted vision of time passed we shook our heads in an empathic no!

Our interests took us elsewhere and with the promise of a few rain-free hours, we set off to a place we yearned to see again. Two years ago we’d paid a flying visit to Ely and it’s stunning cathedral set amongst the beautiful landscape of the Fens. We looked forward to seeing it again, enjoying the time and space to revel in its gifts.

1,000 or so steps

The car park in Ely by the Maltings, the Victorian brewery, kindly offered us free parking and requested we mention their generosity to our friends…duly done!

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Nearby an eel sculpture stood prominently in a park to commemorate Ely, known at one time for its eels and named after the Saxon word for the fish -eilig!

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The walk to the river opened up to reveal a bustling holiday atmosphere as canal boats and small pleasure cruises teemed on the water, the golden willows whispering their greeting to the river, children, and dogs competing for attention.

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Fishermen sat far apart along the river bank, nearly absorbed into the dark green of the grass, they seemed to blend seamlessly together in the picture.

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2,000 or so steps

Astonishingly, the busy lively riverside promenade was left behind as we ducked below a railway bridge to the path along the swollen river. Here only the serious walkers set out. The raised path stood just above the water level of the flooded field to our left, the yellow decaying weeds a fluttering reminder of the winter still upon us.

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3,000 or so steps 

To the right, the mighty river (by British standards) flowed with majestic elegance.

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Ahead arrow-sharp rowing boats raced past at dazzling speed, the long oars barely seemed to dip into the water, effortlessly carrying it along. The University of Cambridge has a boathouse here and often practice on the river; not surprising considering the extremely busy River Cam, clogged with punts and the numerous tourists!

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4,000 or so steps

We continued to traverse through the Fens flat landscape, the marshland of 1,500 square miles (3,900 square kilometres) stretching ahead, gently curving at bends. Here the sky opened up to lofty heights, the soft clouds of whites, pinks, greys dotted upon the lightest of baby blue hues. A gentle peace cascaded, rolled over us as we ambled on, my camera to hand.

5,000 or so steps 

To the left, a sudden rush and hoot stopped me in my tracks – I hadn’t noticed the railway track before, set up just above the water level, the mechanical surprisingly not at odds with the calm of nature.

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The menagerie of birds seemed quite unperturbed, the dogs continued to walk calmly on as did we.

6,000 or so steps

I’ve never walked across a railway track before and approached this one with discernible excitement, heightened as the lights started to flash and the alarm sounded. Here is the video I took of the Train as it passed closely past us. (Since WP suddenly will not allow me to post videos I set up a YouTube channel to allow me to share this!)

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Yet again the wonderful Cathedral dominated the horizon as it sits on the hill in this ‘Isle of Ely’. Visible from miles around the towers reach up to the heavens and there is no danger of becoming lost with this constant reminder of the town centre.

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8,000 or so steps

We near the cathedral. Originally a church was built on this site in AD 672 before the Normans started work and it was deemed a cathedral in 1109 and thereafter the town formed around it.

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9,000 or so steps

We approached the awe-inspiring cathedral which is fittingly known as the ‘Ship of the Fens’  after its famous and unique Octagon tower which replaced the former Norman tower.

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This collapsed in 1322 and was replaced with a structure made from eight great oaks which served as the frame for the famous lantern inside.

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The interior of the cathedral filled me with wonder and overwhelming gratitude. It is unusually light for a cathedral, and I wandered down the nave, before glancing up to its ceiling. The amazing painted wood panels were installed in the mid-1800s by the Victorians in an attempt make the cathedral appear even more medieval.

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Walking around I admired the architecture, the stained glass windows and at one stage noticed the playful rainbow of colours on a pillar from one of the windows.

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Along the walls, plaques and statues of people buried or interned are placed along the walls and floor. One was a Robert Steward, a knight who died in 1571 and looked peaceful in his repose.

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10,000 or so steps

These last steps were used to visit the UK’s largest stained glass museum housed within the cathedral; more about these treasures in my next post. Tired but full of joy we ambled back to the car, letting the glorious sky sweep over us.

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On the drive home we were treated to a sumptuous sunset; a glory and riot of colours which made driving difficult but a wonder to behold for me, the passenger.

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Thank you for joining me on this 10,527 steps day out. Have you recently had a special day out? Celebrated an anniversary? As always it is a delight to read your comments and thoughts.

OUR PATHS

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Our lives are a series of journeys – traversing various paths along the way, some straight and clearly signposted, others winding, confusing. We stumble over obstacles, the cracks in life. What matters is we move forward – time is never still, nor is life. 

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We might not be sure what is at the end of a certain road…but that is no reason not to explore, examine in detail. Take a risk, walk on. 

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Be aware how those oft travelled roads change form with the seasons. For a day or two a busy car-laden highway becomes a mystical wintry snow grotto where only the odd car passes. 

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The norm is never just that…a new angle, emotion is required to see the road in a new light…to see the view ahead in a manner transformed. 

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That doesn’t mean we should charge through life obliviously – take time to notice, be aware of the surroundings. They will raise a smile, ignite creative thoughts, inspire stories, poems, art. 

Along the way we stop for nourishment, sharing a meal with friends and family.

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Here we not only satiate our physical hunger but that of the soul as well; the location often setting the ambience and mood for the occasion. 

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Birds and their flight of freedom never fail to grab our imagination; their elegant effortless glide into the skies, their expanisve wings stretched to the full.

How often don’t we dream of just that – stretching out, soaring away. But then again, perhaps we already do – every moment of our lives…unconscious of the mystical flight of living. 

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Finally, I would like to wish each and everyone of you a wonderful celebration on New Year’s Eve and may 2018 be a peaceful year filled with joy and creativity.

As I’m hosting a New Year’s Eve dinner party, I’ve been busy preparing a menu which I would like to share with you. 

New Year's Eve Menu 2017

 

‘TWIXT THE CUP AND THE LIP *

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Sometimes we don’t need to travel far to journey a long way.

With a publication agreed weeks ago it was with a song in my heart and a dance in my step that I prepared for this major event in my life.

My first book was due out in the world!!

A wonderful celebratory party away was planned…local to us all but a special place to be spoilt and dine in style!

As the date for publication drew closer, delay followed delay and to my shame, lowered my spirits. Worst of all was the lack of communication from the producer and broken promises. In my naive trust, I waited and believed. Until now. At last, our cooperation had to be terminated.

As for the celebratory weekend – I was all set to cancel. My family refused to accept this, insisting that after all the book is ready; apart from the elusive cover! (And final proofread before publication!)

So we set out to celebrate life and what has been achieved – I hope you’ll join me in reliving the wonderful weekend.

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It’s not easy to get anywhere high up in Essex…it’s a pretty flat county but Wivenhoe Park is situated on top of a hill and it is here that Wivenhoe House was built. Wivenhoe House’s fascinating history stretches back to 1759 when Isaac Rebow asked Thomas Reynolds to build the mansion house, which is now Grade II listed.

Stepping out of the car we admired the same landscape painted by the English Romantic artist John Constable in 1816.

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The building escaped mostly unscathed apart from a few broken chimney pots following the country’s worst earthquake in 1884, was requisitioned by troops during WWII before becoming the original home to Essex University in 1964. It is now a hotel.

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The university campus is close by in the park, the tall 1960s tower blocks iconic and for the first time ever I wander amongst them, past a delightful library full (!) of students, past a modern theatre, into the main campus site.

 

Lakes and fountains adorned the area; ducks and coots pecking amiably on the cold ground. A stunning sunset greeted us and we paused to let the peace and beauty sink in – not too long though as the bitter chill bit through our coats.

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Heading round we realised how hungry we were on seeing this unusual cafe…a Routemaster double-decker bus cafe – closed alas but probably just as well as dinner was soon.

The hotel was impeccable with friendly staff who were eager to help. The bedrooms were superb.

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The balcony overlooking the park was a bonus – even if it was too cold to use the welcoming table and chairs.

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The brassiere dining room was delightful and we were welcomed by the sommelier who recommended his original cocktails. How could we refuse! By the end of the evening, my spirits rose even further when presented with the ‘Congratulations’ platter.

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The next morning we just had time for another walk around the grounds; this time to hunt out the two famous cork oak saplings which had been smuggled into the country in the boots of General Redbow following the Peninsular War. What had they witnessed in their two hundred year existence, I wondered?

These impressive trees were both enthralling and majestic; languidly they grew along the ground as well as upwards, their trunks dramatically pock-marked and small leaves reaching in bunches for the sky.

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Gazing at the trees I felt a certain sense of calm for the first time in weeks…their strength and timeless aura transcended my worries and concerns. During this trip, I once again became re-aligned, my inner journey to renewed energy and belief reignited during our short sojourn.

Finally, my deepest apologies to you all…your warm, generous and enthusiastic support for the publication of my short story collection has been overwhelming and it has been hardest to let you down. I hope you will bear with me and kindly ask for your patience until the launch of my book.

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Supermoon photo taken through the trees in the evening.

‘Painting is but another word for feeling.’ John Constable.

I would just substitute the word painting with writing in this case!

Photo ©Annika Perry, except the Constable painting of course!!

*There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip is a very old proverb, similar in meaning to “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. It implies that even when a good outcome or conclusion seems certain, things can still go wrong. (Wikipedia)

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – Gothic Enlightenment by Annika Perry

Once again it’s a pleasure to take part in Sally Cronin’s ‘Posts from Your Archives’ and in this second of four instalments I revisit the mystical Whitby Abbey and join some monks on the Path to Paradise.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Welcome to the second post from the archives of Annika Perry who shares an atmospheric visit to Whitby Abbey in North Yorkshire.

The purpose of this series is to encourage you to head over and follow Annika’s blog and check out her more recent posts.. I hope you will do so.

Gothic Enlightenment by Annika Perry

Self-consciously I traced my way around the grassy labyrinth. Glancing up I caught the eye of a fellow pilgrim and sheepishly we exchanged wry smiles as I wondered, “Does he think I look ridiculous? Do I?”. The answer was an emphatic no, as I took a deep breath and continued on my way.

Arriving earlier at Whitby Abbey the cement bunker where we bought our tickets had been gloomy and disappointing, however on walking around the corner and up we were transported in time as chanting Benedict monks beckoned us forward across the sunny…

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AN ENCHANTED HAVEN

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Last weekend I fell a little bit more in love with life.

Every journey I set off on, I feel a flutter of excitement, a bundle of palpable nervous energy, never quite knowing what to expect.  A short weekend break booked on the spur of the moment a few days ago was no exception! For our first trip away on our own in fourteen years, my husband and I decided our anniversary was a perfect opportunity for some time-out; June had been, for various reasons, a hectic stressful month with little opportunity to just stop and be together.

North Norfolk proved the perfect haven; a blissful retreat from our busy schedules and our brief sojourn there seemed to last a week as the peace and tranquility washed over us, tension headaches easing, laughter and lightness returning.

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How could this vast empty beach fail to soothe? Trudging through the slip-sliding shingle, the bracing wind playing havoc with my hair, my brain cells vibrating under the onslaught  – I felt alive!

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Hints of fishing were evident from the odd boat pulled up far on the beach, however, it is hard to believe that this was busy port until it silted up in the 19th Century.

20170701_111833Nowadays tourism is the biggest industry in the area – although Cley proved to be quiet, with visitors dotted around the town, coast and visitor’s centre.

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Isn’t nature our greatest artist, I wonder, standing for the longest of time looking at the waves crashing on the shore, hypnotised by the wondrous displays with each roll.  I’m mesmerised.

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Cley-next-the-Sea is protected from the vast and powerful waves of the North Sea by a steep shingle bank, behind which there is saltwater marshland separated by the narrow New Cut; on the south side of this is a huge expanse of freshwater marsh.

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Both areas are alive with the flurry of unusual bird life and it was a joy to celebrate the natural environment; a bird-hide providing helpful reminders of the names and characteristics of the avian visitors.

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Here though we were the outsiders, the intruders. We stepped with ease, avoiding the fenced off nesting area and viewed in awe the terns and skuas as they majestically claimed the skies; the egrets reminding me of my trip to Florida, the geese almost hidden in a patch of distant marshland.

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Pausing by the reed beds I close my eyes and just listen…the music of the wind drifting into my soul, the rustle of the leaves creating their own rhythmic sound, soothing, in harmony with the bird calls.

20170702_103741Whilst others muttered at the lack of mobile signal I celebrated the return to ‘olden’ days and scouring my purse for coins I headed to the red phone box to call home. Memories of university days flooded my thoughts, my whirlwind of emotions as I recall hours spent calling from these tardis-style contraptions!

The village has a lovely quaint feel to it; many buildings are reminiscent of its former Flemish trading partner with gabled roof lines and many built using the local Norfolk flint. The main road, although narrow, winds its way through the centre of the town with lots of mysterious alleyways leading around the back of the village, often into people’s gardens!

Gourmet meals punctuated the end of our days and at one restaurant we were welcomed on our special day with complimentary champagne, a strawberry slice resting at the bottom of each flute. The food was sublime, an ecstasy of tastes and occasions that will long live with me!

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As always I admire the strength and vitality of the flora as even in these somewhat inauspicious conditions flowers flourish; particularly striking is the yellow horned-poppy, native to the area.

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It’s been a long while since it’s been this hard to leave a place – one of those times when all elements of a trip conspired to offer us an exquisite time filled with joy every moment. On the car drive home, I sit in silence, savouring the sense of contentment and resolve to carry this harmony forward into the everyday, letting the lightness shine brightly into the days and months ahead.

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Finally, many thanks to Klausbernd and Dina (Hanne) at The World According to Dina for inspiring me to visit Cley-next-the-Sea – their photos and description of the village and surrounding area caught my imagination a while ago. Alas, we didn’t have time to arrange to meet up…next time hopefully!

Season of Mists *

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As Autumn steadily sweeps across us, the temperatures dipping further down with each day, nature’s exhibition of its colourful canvases growing ever more spectacular, we slowly ready ourselves for the winter. 

Winter coats, gloves, hats and scarves are made ready.  The radiators clatter to the sensation of heat coursing through the pipes for the first time in months. 

So off to Sweden I head for a few days to help prepare the summer houses for oncoming winter, when ice can reach a metre or two below the ground, when snow can pile metres high up against the walls. Minus twenty (centigrade) is not unusual. This is the final sorting before the dark days descend, radiators will be left on and this year to ensure there is no repetition of last Easter’s indoor flood following burst pipes, a heated lead has been placed in the water pipes between the houses to stop them freezing. Fingers crossed. 

I can’t wait to see the bountiful beauty the trees will offer – although even as we left in August the birch leaves were already tinged ochre and cracking at the tips. The ocean adorns itself with a wintry gown, the light flickering across the silver shimmery sea, the crispness of the air snapping at my lungs. 

This is my last escapade abroad this year; I will catch up with you all on my return until then I wish you a lovely final few days in October, a fun Halloween if celebrating and for those participating in NaNoWriMo best of luck! May stamina, perseverance and snacks carry you through until the end of 50,000 words. 

‘There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall this vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.’

Robert Henri (1865-1929), American artist & teacher

* From ‘Ode to Autumn’ by John Keats

WELCOME TO SUNSHINE STATE CITIES

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Thank you for joining me on my posts about my recent trip to Florida. I’ll finish off this short series by sharing some photos and information about our visits to the two closest cities; New Smyrna Beach and St. Augustine.

St. Augustine was one city we couldn’t wait to visit. It lies in North-East Florida and is known as the oldest city in America. Its Spanish roots are evident from the buildings in the town; at times I felt I’d been transported in time and location to 16th Century Spain. It was founded on 8th September (my birthday!) in 1565 by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He named it San Augustin as the land was first spotted on that Saint’s day eleven days earlier.

I’d read about the trolley buses in St. Augustine before we arrived – such a perfect mode of transport to the main attractions. They were handy to take either as a long tour or as a  hop-on hop-off trip as well as being so colourful, open to the air and having friendly informative drivers. However there was one moot point. No one had warned us about the hard and extremely uncomfortable hard seats! Heck! My mother’s ribs are only just recovering from the plastic moulded atrocities! Luckily I remained unscathed by leaning forward and clinging for dear life to the pole by the open doorway – precariously at times. Also suspension is NOT an added extra and one piece of sage advice I wish we’d been given is not consume food before embarking on the buses. It’s a rough ride and doubly so on the cobblestones!

On arrival we first chose to absorb the city’s atmosphere by enjoying a stroll down the pedestrianised St. George Street. We revelled in the beautiful architecture all around us, eyes glancing back and forth and then up to the wooden balustrades of the first floor verandahs adorned with flowers. At any moment I imagined a cowboy shoot-out up above and with a crack, the balustrade breaking and a man falling down below. (You can visualise my misspent youth here!)

We had fun browsing the quaint tourist shops and other endless array of shops, however I was all too conscious of my already burgeoning suitcase and kept purchases to a minimum! Restaurants too were plentiful along the street and they all looked so tempting!

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This delightful building, The  School House, is the oldest wood frame building still in existence in St. Augustine today. It was built over 250 years ago whilst Florida was under the rule of Imperial Spain and was constructed of red cedar and cypress and put together with wooden pegs and handmade nails. Classes were held in the front room while the schoolmaster and his family lived upstairs.

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Two famous landmarks that symbolise St. Augustine are the San Marcos fortress and the imposing and impressive Bridge of Lions. The original wooden bridge of the nineteenth century was replaced in 1927 and then this was further renovated this century with the lions again reigning supreme.

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Image from Google

The Castillo de San Marcos is the only remaining 17th-century military stone fortress still in existence in the US. It was built out of the local coquina stone –  a soft limestone composed of broken shells which took up to three years to dry before being ready to use. During the centuries San Marcos has had four flags flown over it: the original Spanish builders and rulers, then British, for a brief while the Confederate States of America  flag during the Civil War before finally coming under the United States flag.

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Image from Google

The recent history of St. Augustine seems to be centred around the colourful character of Henry Flagler.  As the trolley tour wound its way through the idyllic streets his power and money is evident all around from the buildings he helped finance.

His former Alcazar Hotel is now the Lightner Museum, which considers itself Florida’s Smithsonian and houses artefacts from the natural world, to Tiffany glass and a Victorian village.

After hours of sightseeing we sought refuge from the busy bustle of town and happily discovered the serenity of St. Photios Greek Shrine. The shrine and the museum are dedicated to the first Greek colony in the US.

With all this sightseeing another break was required and our thirst was quenched by the delicious cooling, fruity taste of a Sangria. What could be more perfect? Our only regret was that we had too little time in this wonderful city to do it justice – we so wished we could have stayed longer!

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On our first visit to New Smyrna Beach (it soon became our regular haunt!) I felt I’d stepped into a movie set. The main street seemed to consist of front facades of shops and restaurants! The heat was unbelievable, stifling; the sunlight diffused in the warmth; the air echoed with the sounds of cicadas, otherwise silence. Silence as there was no one around! A few 4x4s parked along the road, an odd car driving past, otherwise the main street – Flagler Avenue (see how he got everywhere!) was quiet. We tried a shop; empty apart from the friendly sales assistant. We passed a couple of restaurants, with only a couple of diners. I tried but failed to turn off the theme music from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ playing in my head.

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The more I got my brain round this wonderful town the more I came to enjoy it. The art shops were a delight, particularly the aptly named Ta’Da’ shop which had many unique finds within. Only later did I learn that New Smyrna Beach is recognised as on of the Top 100 Art Towns in US, selling locally produced art, imported wares from Colombia amongst other countries, framed paintings and pictures. Of course, there was the odd tourist shop as well…always a must for us…hmmm…tourists!

There were restaurants galore and the quiet of the daytime was replaced by a lively night scene.  We visited one particular restaurant three times – after all how could we resist Norwoods Tree House restaurant.  What a fantastical concept with superb food, great service and live music.

Mexican is not a type of restaurant found often in the UK so it was a joy to visit one in New Smyrna Beach and after having some friendly help deciphering the menu we ordered and soon tucked into a delicious meal.

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Not to be out done the Italians were represented en masse too and one place we visited had the most unusual textured ceiling covered with corks!

Each step outside on the pavements along the avenue brought a moment of reflection as we gazed down at the names inscribed upon the red brick path. Instead of those of famous celebrities that I’ve seen elsewhere I was touched to see a local sway to these dedicated memorials and celebrations.

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At last I complete my trio of posts about my Florida break and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. May they have brought you some of those wonderful  restorative, exciting and blissful feelings that engulfed me. There is one fact that I’m glad I was unaware of though: that this area has the dubious distinction of being knows as the world’s shark bite capital!

Photos copyright ©Annika Perry unless otherwise specified.

STRIKE DAY

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Remember that childhood feeling of anticipation, of adventure? Of a day of freedom waiting to be explored? Often those days seem faraway in adult life but last week I was lucky enough to experience a few hours of such bliss.

As a strike by teachers closed half the schools around the country we decided to use this day for relaxation and fun.

The sunlight glows in the bedroom, gentle golden hues blending with the soft lilac of the flowers on the curtains. Yes! Already a flutter in my tummy. A few minutes to just lie and savour the minutes unencumbered by alarm clocks, free from the usual morning rush. A bumble bee buzzes its way in through the open windows, ambling around the windowsill, I imagine it bumping along the ornaments. My normal irritated reaction is replaced by one of quiet musings, the soft hum calming my incessantly busy mind. As the room warms from the morning sun I rise, open the curtains and gently edge the bumble bee out.

An hour later my husband, son, his two friends and I are heading towards the coast and the town of Clacton-on-Sea – an old seaside resort popular with London day-trippers in the late 1800s/early 1900s who arrived by steam boat. Today the pier on which the passengers disembarked is still standing and is one of the town’s main features. 

‘Urgh,’ exclaims one of the friends. ‘The sea is a really weird colour.’ I look again as we drive along the sea front. Knowing not to expect the brilliant aquamarine of the Mediterranean I expected at least a dark green shade. Not the sludge brown water moving laboriously up and down in shallow waves, the sand that had been stirred upon during the stormy night gradually sinking to the bottom but as if exhausted barely shifts at all.

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We park up and the youngsters are off and away with just a hasty meet up time arranged. We head to the beach, the soft sand giving way beneath each step and with effort we walk on. Distance – I relish the long distance views, the beach stretching for miles ahead of us, the sky a wondrous mix of clouds, rain threatening then the sun peaking through the brightest of blue respite.

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Its glare a sign of hope, the possibility of summer warmth. By the end of the day, we swelter in the heat, the cute little palm trees along one beach section providing scant protection. I lie underneath the fronds of leaves, close my eyes and imagine myself far far away. 

Ahead we spy some buildings and coming closer the most delightful beach huts have me smiling. Pastel coloured, they look incongruous on their own on the sand but they are so sweet. Ready for the doors to be flung open and for children to exit in a gaggle of laughter and swimming aids. As it is the beach is quiet on this an otherwise normal working & school day. We march on for a few miles, then turn and head back. 20160705_122336

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The serenity of the slow turning blades of the numerous windmills out to sea captivates me. The silent motion mesmerising. I stare on and only now realise that they are placed in long rows and that here, in one spot I see blades upon blades, overlapping as I’m standing directly in front of one row. Resembling a cactus. Like an open swiss army knife. What do you see?

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Ahead is the pier, the popular amusement arcade finally gearing itself up for the day’s activities. The view from the end of the pier back to town is fascinating – after all how often do you see the mainland apart from on boat trips?  

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To the side I suddenly stop and gawp. The unexpected murals a joy to behold; cheeky, bold and full of mischief. I spot the website and later discover this is one of many professional pieces of art created by The Silent Hobo. I love the unexpected, to be surprised, so much the better if on my doorstep.   

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By the pier the famous (really?!) Pirate Radio Station Museum is closed. My husband sighs but I emit a silent cheer. Then I begin to wonder, what would be on display inside. What kind of memorabilia would be on display to  celebrate the 1960s, when ships would be anchored in international waters just off the coast, the illegal radio stations sending the popular hits out to the east coast – songs not sanctioned by the mainstream radio stations. Later many of the DJs would become household names working for the establishment of the BBC.

The south end of the beach is marked by the Martello tower, built in the 19th Century by a country fearing the might of Napoleon and possible invasion. The small defensive fort towers are to this day scattered along this stretch of coast line, their rotund shape visible from miles away.20160705_142550

The only sadness to tinge this day is the sight of an injured seagull on the beach. Whilst a flock loudly squawk and fly around, one seagull struggles its way along the beach, one of its wings dragging uselessly in the sand. Almost torn off, it is held on by a sliver. As one the whole flock lifts, frightened by the arrival of two football playing children. The seagulls swoop gracefully in the air, their white grey feathers shimmering in the sunlight. All but one. The damaged bird looks on, mournfully I feel. Alone and stranded. I couldn’t take a photo of it, it just felt wrong – but here is one of just some of its friends. Can you spot the sleepy one?

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Finally our legs moan in rebellion and our stomachs grumble with hunger; obediently we enter the pub we’d seen earlier. By now heaving with visitors we exit and search out a quieter location and happily come across an Asian restaurant. The vegetarian spring rolls are the best ever and quickly I devour the four. The pièce de résistance is the main course. 

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Satiated we head back to the car, via the previously unseen beauty of the local gardens, packed with people enjoying a bench picnic.  

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