Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Greenham Common

A Common Blue

Another in my series of butterfly walks drawn from David Newland's wonderful Where to see butterflies in Britain. Today's target species was the Grayling, which I have never seen.

I parked on the north side of Greenham Heath and set off along the path highlighted in Newland's map. There are of course lots of small paths heading in every direction, but I was pleased to successfully follow it in a wide arc through woods, eventually emerging in a large open area, at one end of the former runway. By this stage, a few forays into sunny areas just outside the wood had yielded sightings of Speckled Wood, Small Copper, Meadow Brown, a pair of Green Veined Whites mating, Small Heath and some as yet unidentified Blues.

In the open, I was surprised and thrilled to almost immediately see a lone migrant Clouded Yellow. I pursued it in search of a photo but it rapidly disappeared.

After a further inconclusive prowl around this area, I followed the path south across the Heath to emerge in a field just north of the busy A339. I had seen nothing more, the sun had gone in and feeling a bit discouraged, I headed back to the runway are.

Now the sun reappeared and to my delight a pair of Grayling displayed their distinctive gliding flight. I can see now how to distinguish them from a Meadow Brown with its wings closed; they are also I thought a bit bigger. No luck with a photo, but at least a clear sighting!

Then fairly nearby on grass stalks I found the male Common Blue above seemingly having settled down for the evening. On the same clump were two similar but much smaller butterflies, also with their wings resolutely shut. Everything points to these being Brown Argus. There is certainly no clear white fringe to the wings, as a female Common Blue would have.

I decided it was time to go home at this point, but it had been a very enjoyable and absorbing afternoon, and my mission had been accomplished.

Conditions: hot and sunny again, some cloud.

Map: Explorer 158 (Newbury and Hungerford).

Distance: 3 miles, but much of it small circles.

Rating: four stars.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Nancy art nouveau 2

 Museum of the School of Nancy

The centrepiece of our second art nouveau walk in Nancy was the Museum of the School of Nancy. This unprepossessing building of 1911-2, built for the retailer Eugène Corbin by Lucien Weissenberger, doesn't even appear to be art nouveau from the outside, but it houses a remarkable collection of art nouveau inside.

Initially, we followed a direct route to Avenue Foch and then took rue de la Commanderie to find a building we missed on our first art nouveau walk: the splendid Biet Building of 1901-2 (George Biet and Eugene Vallin). The elaborate galleries and the ironwork flowers on the fence and gate were especially striking.

A passer-by told us to look up at the roof where we would see a cat ...

At the end of rue de la Commanderie we turned left into rue Jeanne d'Arc and noticed Dr Jacques's house of 1905 (we had passed his nearby pharmacy on our first art nouveau walk). This was another house whose art nouveau character was only really apparent in certain details: in this case foliage carving above the dormer windows. The architect was Paul Charbonnier.

In the adjacent Place de la Croix de Bourgogne we saw a fine monument to the Battle of Nancy in 1477, where Duke Rene II of Lorraine defeated Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Charles died on the battlefield and his line died with him, Burgundy then becoming part of France.

This was a major event in the history of Lorraine too and we had already seen some reminders of it. In the Beaux Arts there is a painting of Charles's naked body being discovered on the battlefield, and in the Grand Rue there is a stone plaque identifying the house where a vigil was kept over the body before it was buried. And on Wednesday's art nouveau walk we saw the tower Rene used as his headquarters during the battle. I can't however discover anything about the monument.

Returning now to out art nouveau mission, we soon reached the Museum. The audioguide helpfully explains that although it is based in Corbin's house, it is not a recreation of how it was in 1912, but a place to show a whole collection of art nouveau artifacts. Many are original features of the house however. There is a lot of glassware by Emile Gallé and not very good paintings by Victor Prouvé. We especially liked the stained glass, by Jacques Gruber ...

 ... and the Dawn and Dusk bed by the glass maker Emile Gallé.

In the garden there is a delightful building that looks like a summer house, but was apparently an aquarium. It is the also the work of Lucien Weissenberger.

We continued along rue de Sargent-Blandan and turned right into Felix Faure to see the houses built by Cesar Pain between 1900 and 1910. This group is easily the most attractive - and most photographed.

Now we retraced our steps past the open air swimming pool and inti the Parc Ste-Marie to reach rue Pasteur. The Biet house at number 41 (also by Biet and Vallin) looks fairly conventional, but then yoi notice the extraordinary asymmetrical arch over the front door.

A bit further on we found Dr Hoche's house in rue Emile Galle (1906-7, by George Biet). The windows were similar to those in the Biet house, but the distinctive feature was the tall projections on the roof.

Round the corner in Boulevard Jean Jaures we passed Emile Galle's glass factory. A very handsome industrial building.

At the end of Jean Jaures is the Parc de Saurupt, conceived as a garden estate by Jules Villard and protected by a gatehouse. Only seven of the planned hundred buildings were completed and when finished the development had more terraced houses than envisaged and no gates. There are one or two gems. Villa Lang is another work by Lucien Weissenberger and this one seems to owe more to his native Alsace.

The star though is Villa les Glycines by the trusty Emile André, with the vast ground floor window reaching up to divide the first floor window in two.

We took the excellent tram back to Place Stanislas for a mere 1.30 euros.

Conditions: warm and sunny again. Distance: about 3 miles. Source:  Nancy Tourist Office or its website. Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


The Protestant cathedral on an island between two arms of the river Moselle

Today we broke off from our exploration of Nancy to take a day trip by train to Metz. It is a very old (pre-Roman) city, but perhaps the key fact about modern Metz is that it was ceded to Germany after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 and only became French again after the end of the First World War.

The first evidence of this is in the extraordinary railway station, a 350 metre-long neo-Romanesque building constructed between 1905 and 1908. It was the cornerstone of the so-called Imperial District, deliberately untended to Germanify the city.

Off to the left as you look at the station is this incredible water tower of 1908. Its function was to supply water to the steam engines.

We followed Avenue Foch towards the Moselle, passing the Tour Camoufle. According to (French) Wikipedia it is vestige of the medieval walls and dates from 1437.

On the opposite side of the street are some houses with vestiges of the art nouveau architecture we spent yesterday exploring in Nancy.

At the end of the avenue, we were surprised to stumble on this fine gate, the Porte Serpenoise. The inscription at the top says that it was destroyed in 1531 and rebuilt in 1851.

We then passed the Governor's Palace and the Citadel to come upon the Chapel of the Templars, which dates from the beginning of the 13th century. The scaffolded roof of the cathedral can be seen in the background.

Nearby is the barn-like church of St-Pierre-aux-Nonains, said to be the oldest in France. It was built as the palestra or gymnasium of the southern Roman baths and became a chapel in the 7th century. We walked down to the early 19th century park known as the esplanade and then along the bank of the Moselle to the middle bridge to enjoy the view of the Protestant cathedral shown in the photo at the head of this post.

Behind the cathedral is the Place de la Comedie, which contains the oldest theatre in France. In the foreground some sort of performance art is taking place involving a woman with a clarinet and male juggler inside a large transparent ball. Your guess is as good as mine.

Now we crossed the river to see the magnificent cathedral of St-Etienne. This is the view from Place des Armes. There is no spire, but the nave of the cathedral is very tall.

In the west porch there is some quite superb carving. This section depicts the last judgement. On the left the virtuous are shown towards the gates of heaven, while on the right the sinners are escorted by demons into - literally - the mouth of hell.

Inside the impression is of great height, with vast glass windows extending to the very roof. There is much lovely stained glass, including several windows by Marc Chagall.

After this, we decided to walk around the remains of the town walls. The medieval walls were 7 km long and consisted of 38 towers and 18 gates. A section 1.5 km still exists beside the rivers MoselleSe and Seille. The towers here are mostly named after trades and professions.

At the confluence of the two rivers however is the Tour du Diable and in front a sort of barbican, with slots to fire through, which a date stone indicates was added in 1831.

Once round the corner the path follows the quiet River Seill and it is hard to credit that you are in a large city. We were amazed to see a pair of Kingfishers.

At the end is the Porte des Allemandes. It was, unfortunately for us, closed for restoration, but it seems that it straddles the river.

We could have probably explored the centre a bit more, but by now we were tired and decided to simple complete our circuit by heading back to the station.

Conditions: warm and sunny again.
Distance: about 5 miles.
Source:  a creative reading of the Michelin Green Guide - Alsace Lorraine Champagne.
Rating: five stars.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Nancy art nouveau 1

Villa Majorelle

Nancy is famous for its art nouveau heritage and the end point of today's walk was the wonderful Villa Majorelle, above. The source for the walk is a leaflet available from the tourist office or its website. I have - mercifully perhaps! - been selective about what is described here.

Like yesterday's walk around the historic centre, we started in Place Stanislas and turned south into rue des Dominicains, where our first sighting was immediately in the right: the Goudchaux shop (Eugène Vallin, 1901), now a branch of Credit Agricole. I cropped the photo carefully to exclude the cash machine which is next to the beautiful door.

On the next corner (rue de la Visitation) is the former Rosfelder Pharmacy of 1902, by Emile André, one of Nancy's most prolific art nouveau architects. It is notable more for its mosaic decoration than for any purely architectural features.

Turning right at the end into rue St Georges, we admired the upper storeys of what is now Zara. It doesn't seem to feature in the walking guide produced by the Nancy Office of Tourism, but the tall tulip-like columns seem art nouveau to me.

 Soon we came to the former shop of Vaxelaire et cie at number 13 rue Raugraff (1901, by Charles André, Emile André and Eugène Vallin). The upper storey windows are superb, although the peacock feathers have almost lost their colour. An excellent art nouveau Flickr site reveals that the facade was once painted blue.

We couldn't see the amazing Génin Seed Merchants (1902, by Henri and Henry Gutton) which is nearby because it was being restored, but you can see it here.

Further along the main road you come to the former Renauld Bank (now BNP), with its imposing corner tower, ironwork and floral stone carving. It was the work of Emile André and Paul Charbonnier in 1910). The chap on the floor in front of the entrance seems to have been overwhelmed by its impact!

Nearby in rue Henri Poicaré is the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Emile Toussaint and Louis Marchal, 1908). The initial impression is quite conservative, apart from the canopy over the main door.

However, the section to the left (out of view in the picture above) has interesting stained glass windows and distinctive corbels.

A short distance away in rue Stanislas is the Margo building (Eugène Vallin and Paul Charbonnier, 1906). I thought was the most exciting building we had seen so far: the lovely curves, the apparent symmetry, the high relief carving at the top of the facade.

 It seemed only right to pause for lunch in the Brasserie Excelsior (Lucien Weissenberger and Alexander Mienville, 1910).

Outside, its art nouveau features are limited to some floral stone carving and a frieze under the eaves. Inside, however, it is a riot of sinuous colour.

Now we walked past the station noting some art deco details on the Printemps department store. In avenue Foch we passed the house of Dr Jacques to reach the Loppinet Building (Charles Bourgon, 1902), a very harmonious construction with another lovely door.

Further on, the Lombard and France-Lanord buildings (1902-4, both by Emile André) offered a bit more fantasy and drama and made a very impressive pair.

Opposite, we noticed a curious tower. This turned out to be La tour de la Commanderie de St Jean (an order of crusading Knights), founded in 1177. A plaque explains that in 1477, the tower was the headquarters of Duke Rene II of Lorraine when he defeated the Burgundian Duke Charles the Bold at the battle of Nancy.

From here, it was only a short walk to the Villa Majorelle (1901-2) at 1 rue Louis-Majorelle. It was built for the furniture designer Louis Majorelle.  The architect was Henri Sauvage.

This is a much more adventurous, indeed revolutionary, work than any we have so far seen and stands comparison with the best of Hector Guimard's buildings in Paris.

Here, to end, are a couple of details.

Conditions: warm and sunny again.

Distance: maybe 3 miles.

Source:  Nancy Tourist Office or its website.

Rating: four stars.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Nancy: the historic centre

Place Stanislas

Here we are in Nancy for a four-day break with our friends Merv and Pud. Our first walk is a tour of the historic centre - later we will explore the art nouveau heritage of this lovely city. We start in the wonderful Place Stanislas, a UNESCO world heritage site. Stanislas Leszczyński was the deposed king of Poland and father-in-law of Louis XV who became Duke of Lorraine in 1736 at the age of 60 and devoted the remaining 30 odd years of his life to good works and to building a new city beside the existing medieval one. This extraordinary space was designed by the architect Emmanuel Héré and is in fact rectangular, with two high pavilions at each end and two lower ones on the north side  The corners have beautiful gilded wrought iron gates.

There is an arc de triomphe (1754-6 - built in honour of Louis XV) in between the two pavilions on the north side.

On the south side, is the town hall (1752-55). It was always in the sun during the day time, so here is a night-time picture, lit up after the nightly son-et-lumiere.

From the place we head south and then east to find the baroque Church of St Sébastien. It dates from 1732 and has an unusual concave facade with four delicately carved panels. It took some effort to compose the picture to exclude the modern buildings that lie behind it.

Then we looped around to pass the uninspiring 18th century cathedral - it looks better from a distance, or when lit up at night - to reach the calm Place d'Alliance. Here we admired the pleached lime trees, which create a wide shady canopy around the edge of the square.

Still heading east, we walked through the Godron Garden, where a great variety of plants were arranged in box-edged beds for the benefit of horticultural students. It dates from 1753.

We came next to the Porte Ste-Catherine, which dates from 1753 and marks the eastern extremity of Stanislas's city. There is a similar Porte Stanislas at the western extremity. This is the view looking out: looking in, it can be seen that the centre of the arch aligns with the statue of Stanislas in the main place.

We went a little further, to where the road crosses the Marne-Rhine canal. (Later we had a soporific boat cruise on the canal, which was unfortunately largely lacking in interest.)

 We now headed west and passed through the large and pleasant Jardin de la Pepiniere, admiring the central fountain and being delighted by the gilded bandstand near the exit. There is also a statue of the artist Claude by Rodin.

 We passed insight of the back of the arc de triomphe and in front of the vast and oddly named church of St-Eprve.It dates from the 19th century. The roof was blown off during a severe storm in 1999.

 Nearby is the Ducal Palace with its extraordinary gateway. It was rebuilt by Duke Rene II after his victory over Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy in 1477.

Further along the Grand Rue you come to the fantastic medieval Porte de la Craffe which formed part of the 14th century fortifications. It was later used as a prison.

Beyond it lies a second gate: the Renaissance Porte de la Citadelle.

Conditions: hot and sunny.

Distance: about 4 miles.

Source: Michelin Green Guide - Alsace Lorraine Champagne.

Rating: five stars for Place Stanislas alone.