Treasure of the World

Two weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity of an extended break in the historic and beautiful city of Bath. Whilst there not only did we explore the amazing Roman Baths, dine at the lavish Pump Rooms, we also set one day aside for nature.

In the midst of Autumn what better place to visit than the National Arboretum of Westonbirt.

With over 18,000 trees we were spoilt with autumnal displays and happily wandered for four hours along some of its 17 miles of pathways (one of these amongst the treetops!).

As is often the case, Westonbirt was the vision of one man; in this case a wealthy landowner, MP and gardening enthusiast Robert Halford who started the Arboretum in 1829. Since 1956 it has been managed by the Forestry Commission.

Today it boasts over 2,500 species from all across the globe, and ‘is internationally renowned not only for the diversity and importance of its collection but also its breath-taking beauty’.

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” John Muir

“The world’s forests are a shared stolen treasure that we must put back for our children’s future.” Desmond Tutu

“I never see a forest that does not bear a mark or a sign of history.” Anselm Kiefer

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.” Paulo Coehlo

“An autumn forest is such place that once entered you never look for the exit!” Mehmet Murat Ildan

“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It’s the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and scorching sun.” Napoleon Hill

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 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!

‘Perfume of the Mountain Grass’ *

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An unassuming man writes unassuming songs with such power and poetry that he’s single-handedly dominating the UK music charts with 14 of his songs in the UK top 15.

EDEd Sheeran, a Yorkshire lad, grew up in a village not far away and it was his ‘Castle on the Hill’ that first grabbed my attention with his signature style of telling a story of his youth, simple and straight forward but beneath the surface a soulful and profound message.

Quickly other songs on the album grew on me but ‘Castle on the Hill’ stayed with me and when I learned it was only an hour’s drive away a visit was planned. I just hoped it wouldn’t disappoint.

The predicted hour became a long meandering two-hour journey through quaint villages, thatched houses centuries old hugging the roadside. Soon other houses took on bold and vibrant hues, painted in ochre, startling orange, scarlet, dazzling blue. Small hamlets with the extraordinary names such as ‘Nedging with Naughton’ passed quickly whilst pedestrian style hunchback bridges spanned the brooks. Once again we spurned the Satnav and trusted to instinct, good luck and ultimately the good-old fashioned road until finally, we arrived at Framingham (and it only took three circuits of the town to locate a parking space!).

Framingham Castle dates back to the 12th Century and it was built by a local Norman family and was their home for over 400 years. Later it was briefly owned by Mary Tudor as she gathered her supporters to fight for the throne.

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The castle is built on the natural highpoint in the village and it stands magnificently on the mound; a landmark visible across the county to the North Sea.

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Its imposing facade strikes me as I walk towards the main gate which would have had a drawbridge across the dry moat. Towers reach for the sky and now number twelve out of the original thirteen and on top of some beautiful brick Elizabethan chimneys have been added by later occupants.

These were for both decorative and practical purposes and seeing their corkscrew design it is easy to understand why!

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Having read about the wall-walk this was our first destination. It is unusual to find a complete curtain wall in a castle in England – let alone be able to walk around it.

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The climb up the 10.5 m (30 feet) high walls was well worth the effort with spectacular views, particularly looking down at the mere below. When originally built the mere was three times larger and the castle would have been reflected in the still water and provide a striking and stately effect.

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Walking around the moat, past the mere the sense of peace is palpable, the sense of history all around. Where Normans and Tudors walked, fought, lived, sightseers of the 21st-century swarm. People from the village gather, talk, chat…discuss music, compose songs. It is not hard to feel the inspiration which has become a top hit for Ed Sheeran.

As the album ‘Divide’ popularity grows and yes, I have become one of over 672,000 to have fallen in love with the album and bought it and quickly another song stood out to me. Its quiet, peaceful lyrical beauty is a tribute to his grandmother  – it is wonderfully moving, touching the hearts of all who listen to it. I’m sure ‘Supermarket Flowers’ will have many in tears.

*From ‘Castle on the Hill’

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

VIKINGS – CREATIVE ARTISTS

The Oseberg Ship. Photo by Mårten Teigen of Museum of Cultural History, Oslo

The Oseberg Ship. Photo by Mårten Teigen of Museum of Cultural History, Oslo

Like subterranean explorers we travelled for miles along the network of tunnels approaching Oslo. This was quite unlike any city approach I had experienced.

The occasional car swished past on the cavernous carriageway of Bjørvika Tunnel and soon we made our exit from the urban roads. Within minutes we arrived on Bygdøy, a small rural island which boosts an array of tantalising museums. Among them is the Kon-Tiki Museum. Thor Heyerdahl’s book made a huge impression on me as young and one day I must return for this pilgrimage. For now our destination was The Viking Ship Museum which was  easy to find with the aid of the long-suffering SatNav struggling on with the Norwegian pronunciation.

Overhead shot of The Oseberg Ship

Overhead shot of The Oseberg Ship

On seeing the Oseberg Ship I initially gasped in awe and immediately felt a humbling stirring in my soul. Over a thousand years old and our fore-fathers had not only created a vast sea-worthy craft but had done so with great sense of beauty and elegance. This was no clumsily constructed vessel, rather the wonder of craftsmanship shone from every angle, the soft planed oak boards with the carved keel, the perfect round-headed iron fastenings, then looking up to the bow I spotted the magnificently carved snake head spiral.

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The ship, the largest intact Viking ship in the world, was built around 820 AD and could be either sailed or rowed with 30 oarsmen. Fourteen years later The Oseberg Ship was used as a burial ship for two women, one in her 70s the other in her 50s.

Burial Chamber

Burial Chamber

They were placed in a specially made burial chamber which resembled a small log cabin and with them were placed various items to help them in the after-life, including kitchenware, sledges, clothes, as well as horses and dogs. The remains of a peacock was one of the more exotic and unusual animals discovered. There would have been jewellery and weapons but these were looted within a hundred years of burial.

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The artistic wonder continued as we wandered further into the museum. To be so aesthetically delighted was totally unexpected. We looked with awe at the beautifully carved sledges, a wagon, animal-head posts as well as the paraphernalia of the every day. The perfectly formed spades would not be amiss in a local B&Q; I could just imagine the price tag dangling on the top.

My wonder at these explorers of the past shifted to admiration of the early 20th Century archeologists whose care and dedication strove to rescue and persevere the finds which had been buried in the blue clay. Seeing the collapsed nature of the buried boats – oh yes, I forgot to mention the shock and amazement of discovering two further complete Viking Ships at the museum; The Gokstad Ship and The Tune Ship, tucked into opposing sides of the large cross-roads shaped museum.

Buried boats and artefacts were discovered tumbled to the side like giant wooden dominoes. All askew. All topsy-turvy. Looking so fragile in the photographs from the era, now the power and force resonated from the ships, silencing the large crowd mingling around us.

Our experience at the museum was tinged with sadness and poignancy as we learned my son’s generation might be to last to view the artefacts on display. The seemingly perfect objects were preserved with alum and they are slowly corroding from the inside out whilst scientists are working hard to find a solution to the chemical disintegration.

Replete in spirit and mind we left in mutual silence, our musings loud in our own heads, our hearts full of raw emotions from our millennium journey in the previous hours. It was time to leave this island of tranquility and head to our next destination – our hotel in Oslo city centre.

http://www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/

http://www.kon-tiki.no