Saturday, 4 November 2017

Wimborne and Badbury Rings

Wimborne Minster

Our friends Dave and Chris are visiting and we thought we would show them Wimborne. We were lucky enough to discover the existence of a Town Trail - only available from the Tourist Office in the High St, opposite the Minster. We started our walk with a visit to the Minster. One of its distinctions is that it has two towers: a later one at the west end and the 12th century one over the crossing which can be seen in the photo above. There was a spire as well until 1600 when it fell to the ground.

The famous Chain Library was closed, but we enjoyed the Astronomical Clock, which dates from 1320. It sits in the West Tower

From the west end there is a great view along the nave with its fantastic Norman arches.

This is the view of the ceiling of the Crossing Tower. I took the same picture when we did a circular walk around Wimborne in 2011, but this one is better.

Following the Trail, we crossed the churchyard to enter the Cornmarket. Markets have been held here since 1224. This is the Market House of 1758, built on the site of the old Guildhall.

We retraced our steps to go round to the other side of the Minster, where I confess we weren't tempted by the Wimborne Model Town, a replica of Wimborne in the 1950s. It was shut anyway. We were however delighted to be taken past the Old Grammar School, rebuilt in a rather lovely Tudor style in 1851. It is now private apartments.

We doubled back into King St and turned right, turning into Dean's Court where our guide pointed out a car park where there were once almshouses (built 1560, demolished on their 400th anniversary in 1960). It's a sad tale. At the end of the road is Dean's Court, "an attractive mansion set in secluded grounds", but almost entirely invisible. The garden can be visited on certain days, so we will have to look out for that if only to see the long crinkle-crankle (serpentine) wall mentioned in the guide.

We again returned to King St and turned into East St, crossing this rather nice bridge.

We doubled back again and walked up the High St to emerge in The Square. It is a fine space, but it is a shame that it is mostly road.

We walked up East Borough and left into Priors Walk with Allendale House (1823 by Sir Jeffry Wyatville)) on the opposite corner.

At the end we resisted another detour - this time to see where the workhouse was once located (it was demolished in 1958). As with the car park that was once almshouses mentioned earlier, I find it hard to see the point. We had a similar experience doing the Jane Austen walk around Southampton - it was full of places, now demolished, where Jane once had coffee or whatever.

We turned into West Borough to see the somewhat unprepossessing Tivoli Theatre on the right. We will come back though as it apparently has a fine art deco interior and definitely has an interesting programme of gigs.

At the end of West Borough we headed towards the Cornmarket again and the end of the walk.

To complete our fun we headed out of town to Badbury Rings. This iron age hill fort is unusual in having a large clump of trees in the middle of it so that its full extent is not immediately apparent. It consists of three concentric circular ramparts with ditches between them, some 18m deep. It dates from around 800 BC and was in use until the Roman occupation of 43 AD

This is the view looking outwards from the grove of trees.

We left by a gate at the rear of the hill fort and followed a track along the edge of High Wood and then walked along the side of the wood to join King Down Drive, a wide and pleasant country lane.

A right turn brought us to the Blandford Road which we followed for a mile or so beside the famous avenue of beech trees. They looked lovely in the late afternoon sun

Conditions: bright and not too cold.

Distance: perhaps a mile and half around Wimborne and 3 miles around Badbury Rings.

Map: Explorer 118 (Shaftesbury and Cranbourne Chase).

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 27 October 2017


Canterbury Cathedral

A nice day was in prospect so I thought I would progress my English cities project with a visit to Canterbury. I have walked and blogged 33 out of 51 - see my Cities page. It would be all the more interesting because I was a graduate student there more than 40 years ago and I haven't been back since.

I was armed with a walk route from The Guardian that started at Canterbury East, but I arrived at I arrive at Canterbury West station since East did not have not such a good service), so I had to improvise! I started by going completely off piste and heading for Manwood's Hospital, almshouses in St Stephen's Green dating from 1570.

Actually this was rather fortuitous because it meant walking in the direction of the University and I did get a slightly nostalgic glimpse of some of the buildings on the hill outside the city. I headed back towards the city centre along the busy norther ring road and turned left to follow the quiet banks of the shallow and rather lovely Great Stour river.

Reaching St Radigund's St I turned left, away from the river towards the High St, passing the colourful Blackfriars St ...

.. and then later, in Guildhall St, this art deco Debenhams shop with colourful stained glass in the upper parts of the windows.

Once in the High St I turned right (west) to pass the wonderful Royal Museum and Art Gallery of 1857.

A little further along was the Eastbridge Hospital (the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, to give it its full name), founded in about 1176 as a hospice for poor pilgrims visiting the shrine of St Thomas a Becket. This is pretty quick work, since Becket was murdered only a few years earlier (29 December 1170). It became an almshouse in the 16th century and continues in this role to day. For a long period part of it was also used as a school.

Inside there is a wonderful undercroft where the pilgrims slept in cubicles, but when the hospital became an almshouse it was used as a coal cellar. It was restored in 1933.

There is a chapel on the ground floor which was closed in 1547 and restored in 1969, and on the first floor a refectory with a rather damaged mural of Christ in Glory.

Continuing along the High St there was the Marlowe Theatre off to the right. It was designed by Keith Williams and opened in 2011. It is the third theatre of its name in Canterbury and is named for Christopher Marlowe who was born and attended school in the city.

By now I realised that I was going to do an  anti-clockwise circle, culminating with the Cathedral and then heading back to Canterbury West.The next port of call was the Westgate, which the one thing I had a very clear memory of. It was the built in 1379 and has the distinction of being the largest surviving city gate in England. I took my photo from the inside because here too the road outside was choked with traffic.

I headed back up the High St and turned right down Stour Street to pass the Canterbury Heritage Museum. The building was once the 13th century Poor Priests' Hospital, but it was turned to secular uses in 1579.

At the end I turned right into Gas St to emerge by the ruins of the Norman keep. It was largely constructed in the reign of Henry I as one of three Royal castles in Kent (along with Dover and Rochester). By the 19th century it had been acquired by a gas company and was used as a storage centre for gas for many years, during which time the top floor was destroyed. It is currently closed, having become unsafe.

I was no more or less opposite the East station and I walked a short way on the bridge over the ring road to get the excellent view of the walls promised in my walk description. It was indeed a fine sight.

The first city walls were built by the Romans and by the 12th century the walls were ill-maintained and of little military value. Fears of a French invasion during the Hundred Years War led to a great rebuilding programme. Parts were demolished in the 19th century and there was some bomb damage during the Second World War. Happily, there was further rebuilding in the 1950s and now over half the original circuit survives. There is a pleasing walls walk around Dane John Park.

After this section of walls I headed away from the city centre for a brief glimpse of the gatehouse of St Augustine's Abbey. The abbey was founded in 598 as a Benedictine monastery and functioned in this way until its dissolution in 1538. It was just dedicated to St. Augustine, it was actually founded by him. There wasn't time to go in so I made do with a quick snap of Abbot Findon's Great Gate. It was rebuilt after a long period of decline, which affected the whole abbey, and bomb damage during the Second World War.

Now I finally headed towards the Cathedral, entering through the magnificent Christ Church gate, built between 1504 and 1521. It is thiought to have been built in honour of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII's elder brother who married to Catherine of Aragon in 1501.  Arthur died the following year aged just 16: Henry VIII became King and married Catherine himself in 1509.

I had of course left it too late to do justice to this huge and wonderful cathedral. Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the twelfth century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. The Norman nave and transepts were demolished to make way for gothic replacements. I had forgotten just how big it is: 160m long and 50m wide; the crossing tower is 70m high. Quite overwhelming.

Two parts especially caught my eye: the cloister, rebuilt 1397-1444 is a beautiful space ...

... and the stained glass on a deep blue background in the Trinity chapel.

Having proven that there really is too much to see in a single day and that I could recognise almost nothing of the city, I decided to call it a day, promising to myself to come back before too long and finish the job.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day.

Distance: the walk which I didn't really follow was only 2.5 miles. My own meander must have been about 4.

Rating: five stars.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017


Breamore House

We were on our way to Poole for a short visit and decided to make a detour to see Breamore House, which had been recommended by a friend. We had a very enjoyable and informative guided tour, from which we quickly learned the correct pronunciation of the name: it is Bremmer Hice. It was completed in 1583 by the Dodington family. It was purchased in the 18th century by Sir Edward Hulse, who was a Baronet and Royal Physician. It is still in the Hulse family to this day. The house suffered a major fire in 1856.

The highlights of the tour were the great hall, the paintings and tapestries and several Tudor beds. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed so I have no pictures. We also learned that the estate was used by the Americans under General Patten during the Second World War, specifically for the preparation for the assault on Omaha beach.

Opposite the entrance is this fine tower. It was built as a water tower, although no longer used as such, in the 19th century. I suspect this was after the fire mentioned above. It is very charming.

After the tour we walked back down the drive to visit the Saxon church of St Mary's which lies just outside the grounds. The church was probably (according to the helpful information leaflet) founded by Ethelred II (The Unready) around 1000 AD and was originally a Minster church. Alterations were made in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries and there was the inevitable restoration during the 19th century. This included removing external plaster to reveal the flint and stonework.

Inside, the archway to the South Porticus (on the right in the picture) contains a Saxon inscription from Ethelred's reign. It is translated as Here is manifested the word to thee.

At the chancel end there are the remains of wall paintings from the 13th and 15th centuries.

Conditions: grey, wet.

Rating: four stars. A delightful place, well worth a visit.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Mahon (part 2)

 The entrance hall of Ca n'Oliver

It's our last day in Mahon and the goal is to explore some parts in more depth. We start with the Ca'n Oliver which houses the Hernandez Sanz - Hernandez Mora Collection. Entirely by coincidence Ca'n  Oliver is 100 m from our hotel in Cale Anuncivay. The exterior is featured briefly in my post Mahon (part 1). The house was built in the 18th century as manor house of the wealthy Oliver family. At some relatively recent point it was purchased by the government, refurbished and made into a museum covering aspects of Menorcan history and housing the art collection of Francesc Hernandez Sanz and his son Francesc Hernandez Mora. The entrance hall with its magnificent staircase is astonishing. Above is the first view from the hall and below is a view with more detail of the staircase

The ceiling at the top of the stairwell is beautifully painted as are the ceilings of almost all the rooms.

The historical information is informative and very well presented and there are some nice pictures and artifacts. The great surprise of the building is that there is a tower at the top which offers great views over Mahon. It can be seen from the courtyard at the rear of the building.

 It is not very well publicised and requires a steep climb up a metal staircase, which perhaps explains why we had it to ourselves. There were some great views. This one shows Santa Maria, the C'an Mir and the naval base.

 Now we headed across to the Museum of Menorca, which as luck would have it is located next to the third church, St Francis. Unfortunately, most of the museum is currently closed for renovations, but the exquisite late 17th century cloister remains open and is well worth a visit. The central space with its well is surrounded by massive columns with capitals in an unfamiliar style.

The arcades are even more wonderful.

We also had a closer look at the facade of St Francis and admired this angel sculpted on one side of the main portal. There was another nice sculpture on the other side.

From here we headed down to the port for a boat trip up the harbour. Mahon's harbour is 4.5km long and 1km at its widest. It was one of the most important in the world in the turbulent years of the 18th and 19th centuries. We set out more less opposite the naval storehouse on Illa Pinto, with its gun emplacements.

The next landmark, high on the hill to the left, is the handsome villa Sant Antoni. It was known by the British as the Golden Farm and was reputed to be the location of Lord Nelson and Emma Hamilton's trysts.

This was followed by the Illa dei Rei, once the site of a hospital. British sailors named it Bloody Island as it was alleged that surgical waste was tossed into the harbour.

Further along on the left hand side was this extravagant modern house in a prime spot on top of the hill.

Now we came to the Canal de Sant Jordi (St George).

At the other end there was  a fine view of the Fortress of La Mola, which we have seen from further afield on previous days.

As we approached the mouth of the harbour we passed the massive gun batteries which defended it.

Emerging from the harbour mouth the boat (which was glass-bottomed) moored for a while in a bay called Es Clot for us to see the fish. I have to admit that this was a bit disappointing, but soon we were underway again and passing the ruins of the original fort built to protect the harbour. This was followed by the Illa de Lazareto, the quarantine island. This one functioned between about 1815 and as late as 1918. Venice had one as early as 1423.

Finally as we neared the maritime station, we passed Es Castell and had a lovely view of the shoreline of the old town.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Rating: four stars. It was very interesting to understand the relationship between the various islands and structures in the harbour. But it was even more pleasing to travel through a harbour that I had read about in  Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey stories.