Sunday, 14 December 2014

Woolland and Ibberton

The Vale of Blackmore

We had planned to go for a walk today and were delighted to wake up to a beautiful sunny day. We started the walk from the car park at Woolland Hill (an alternative to the car park above Ibberton) and marveled at the vast expanse of the Vale of Blackmore stretching out before us. You are around 900 ft above sea level (274m) and on a clear day you can see the Quantocks, the Mendips, Glastonbury Tor and Shaftesbury. Sadly, today was rather hazy at first and the picture above was taken towards the end of the walk.

We followed the road around the line of the ridge to reach Bulbarrow Hill with a great view to the south west along the route of the Wessex Ridgeway. Right into the sun unfortunately.

Now we back-racked a few yards and took a bridleway descending a quite steep hillside. This led into a field and a road and brought us to Woolland, with its pretty little church built by the prolific Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1857 in his favoured 13th century style.

Inside, the chancel with its apse featuring elaborate shafts, ribs and capitals along with delicately coloured stained glass was especially lovely.

From here we headed off across fields, extremely muddy and wet in places, towards Ibberton. There was a nice view of Ibberton Hill ahead, with the ground still frosty at 1pm ...

... and of this nice oak tree with the Wessex Ridgeway behind on the ridge above. We marveled at the black cow on the left with a solid band of white.

At Ibberton we had an excellent lunch in the Crown Inn. It looks quite run down from the outside with its faded sign board almost illegible, but inside there was a warm welcome and a tempting menu.

After lunch we climbed up the hill to visit the church of St Eustace (apparently one of only three with this dedication). Externally, it was rather a hotch potch of styles after being restored from a ruin in 1907-9 ...

... but inside we loved the fragments of Elizabethan stained glass. This piece depicts a Wyvern - usually described as being like a dragon but with two legs.

Observant readers will notice that this one has four legs, so perhaps his upright posture is the defining factor. I'll leave it there, but if you search on "how is a wyvern different from a dragon" you get lengthy discussions of the putative differences, or lack of them.
We now climbed steadily across grassy hillside to reach the road which runs along the Ridgeway and walked along for the best part of a mile to reach the car.

Conditions: blue sky, sunshine, just above freezing.

Distance: 4.25 miles.

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA).

Map: Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas and Bere Regis).

Rating: four stars. We were delighted with the sections along the Wessex Ridgeway and we have resolved to start walking it (perhaps just the Dorset section) next year.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Paris: Art nouveau and Modernist architecture

View from the Palais de Chaillot towards the Eiffel Tower

I had planned an art deco walk for today to complement the art nouveau one we did last March. My research led me to a modernism walk produced by Time Out and I decided to use it as a point of departure.

As with the art nouveau walk we started in the 16th arrondissement, this time at metro Jasmin, and walked down Avenue Mozart to revisit, at number 22, the house built for himself by the great art nouveau architect Hector Guimard.

We then retraced our steps to go up rue Henri Heine and tune left into rue du Docteur Blanche to find down an alley on the left the Fondation Le Corbusier. This occupies a pair of villas designed by him and Pierre Jeanneret in 1923. The contrast with the curves of Guimard's house could hardly be more stark.

You have to knock to gain entrance and we had the place almost to ourselves. Inside the most striking thing is the way spaces flow into each other. It is also more colourful than one might expect.

We doubled back along rue du Docteur Blanche to find rue Mallet-Stevens on the right. This is a small cul-de-sac with six houses designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens - it seems unusual to name the street after the architect.  However, "Along with Le Corbusier he is widely regarded as the most influential figure in French architecture in the period between the two World Wars" (Wikipedia - so perhaps not quite so surprising).  Although the houses are mostly tall, the overall feeling is quite intimate.

We headed down rue de L'Assomption to rejoin rue Mozart and head towards Passy where we enjoyed an excellent lunch at the art deco La Roronda de la Muette restaurant. We then found our way to rue Raynouard where numbers 51-55 are celebrated works by Auguste Perret. They were built from reinforced concrete tinted to look like stone. Celebrated maybe, but also hard to like.

Across Place de Costa Rica and into rue Benjamin-Franklin where another block had more classic and pleasing art deco details and strong vertical emphasis.

We then reached the back of the extraordinary Palais de Chaillot, here seen from the bottom of the Trocadero gardens by the river Seine.

It is classical revival architecture on a massive scale and was designed by Leon Azema, Louis-Hippolyte Boileau and Jacques Carlu for the Exposition Universelle of 1937. In the plaza between the two wings there are some rather lovely gold statutes, four of which can be seen in the picture at the head of this post. The terrace overlooking the Trocadero is perhaps the best place in Paris to see and photograph the Eiffel Tower.

Just along Avenue President Wilson is the smaller, but equally eye-popping Palais de Tokyo, also built for the 1937 Exposition. Until 2002 it seems to have been something of a white elephant, but is now a successful location for art exhibitions.

At the of Avenue President Wilson, we crossed Place de L'Alma to find Perret's Theatre des Champs Elysses in Avenue Montaigne. It opened in 1913 and is again constructed in reinforced concrete, although this reflected the quality of the subsoil and the proximity to the Seine, rather than solely Perret's apparent preference for this material.

It is plain and quite austere, with the facade brighted by areas of gold paint and the lovely bas reliefs  by Antoine Bourdelles. Inside, art deco stylistic features are more to the fore (it proved to be possible to just wander in and have a look at the lobby).

Conditions: quite bright, but cool (6 degrees).

Distance: about 3.5 miles.

Rating: four stars. Very interesting and illuminating, but not much to love.


I had hoped to conclude this walk with a trip to see the incredible Louxor Cinema (170 Boulevard de Magenta, right by Barbes-Rochechouart metro station), but we did not have time. So we went there first thing the next morning and what a fantastic building it is.

It dates from 1921 and is still going as a palace of cinema. This is the area under the main awning.

And this is a detail of the mosaic on the columns of the foyer.

Monday, 8 December 2014

La Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry

The Fondation Louis Vuitton

We had read about the newly opened Fondation Luis Vuitton and seeing it seemed to provide the ideal excuse for a short trip to Paris; we could also visit our friends Derek and Arlette who have just gone to live there. Derek joined us to see the Fondation.

Gehry is a veteran architect, probably best known for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. He is usually described as "Canadian-American" which seems to simply mean that he was born in Canada, as Frank Goldberg, but has lived for all his adult life in America. He is also not afraid of controversy, asked whether "'emblematic buildings' [presumably including his] would continue to be a feature of modern cities", he replied according to the Guardian, “In this world we are living in, 98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it."

The Fondation was commissioned by Bernard Arnault, head of the LVMH luxury brand empire and the richest man in France, as a gallery for his collection of modern and contemporary art. It is located on the edge of the Jardin d'Acclimatation, a sort of zoo-cum-amusement park right next to the Bois de Boulogne.

We approached the Fondation through the Jardin d'Acclimatation and first saw it end-on. It was much larger than we expected and very dramatic. It seemed at first to suggest a giant ship which was somehow opening its bows to us. 

We headed round to the right to try to get a side on view and were distracted by this rather lovely tower. It turned out to be a dovecote built during the Franco-Prussian war as a base for carrier pigeons used to send messages. We never worked out whether it was built there or moved there at some later point.

This did lead us to a good vantage point to see the Fondation - the picture at the top of this post. We could now see that there were a number of large panels which somehow cloaked the building. It was hard to determine its overall shape, but we did see people moving about in the gaps between the panels - I have since see them described as "sails", which seems apt - and this was very intriguing. Derek offered the view that it was "bonkers". We viewed this as quite a positive assessment and were generally in agreement.

We headed inside and we delighted to find an exhibition of a hundred or so models used as part of the design process. It was a bit overwhelming and too hard to literally trace the design history, but it was fascinating to see how these architectural models were made - bits of wood, cotton wool and paper in some cases. This was the final proof of concept model that ended the pure design stage.

We hurried up to the top level to see what was up there and were simply thrilled to see that were a whole series of terraces linked by steps and walkways. Some parts were covered, some exposed. We also began to understand the elaborate engineering behind the sails.

The gaps in the sails were delightful: for example this view towards the office towers of La Defense off to the west.

When we had finally exhausted the considerable charms of the roof terraces, we headed down to basement, walked through a large gallery to find an interesting water cascade leading down to a small pool.

Just round the side was this curious walkway with yellow lights.

It was only when we walked right up to the wall that we realised the quite extraordinary effect that had been created.

So, it was eventually clear that what you have is a light, airy four storey building which houses a series of large spaces to display art works. This is cloaked and made mysterious and striking by the sails and other effects. It is a remarkable building and a great place to visit. My only real criticism is that it lacks a decisive silhouette.

Conditions: grey and cloudy.

Distance: maybe a mile and half.

Rating: five stars.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Haslemere to Black Down (Serpent Trail 1)

Haslemere High Street

We met up with our friends Viv and Giles to start what we hope will be a new Long Distance Path project: the Serpent Trail. I noticed it marked on the OS map as I was searching for a walk in this area. The official website explains that it a 64 mile trail from Haslemere to Petersfield, designed to highlight the outstanding landscape of the greensand hills. The name comes from the twists and turns of its route. We "hope" because we are all a bit crocked at the moment, so progress may be slow. Still, a journey of a thousand miles and all that.

We start in Haslemere's attractive High Street: it just lacks an imposing building to provide a focus. We walk to the bottom and turn left into Petworth Road and soon take a path on the left: we were staggered to not find a way marker at this critical point.

The path soon passes an interesting structure. It is called Speckled Wood, after the butterfly, and was built by the National Trust in conjunction with the well-known woodsman and conservationist Ben Law.  It houses a training school for National Trust volunteers.

A curving path through muddy fields brought us back to the road which we crossed at Almshouse Common near the set of former almshouses which gave its name to the locality. They date originally from 1676 and have rather handsome porches. It seems that a further pair are being built on the exact same design.

We followed a climbing path, with a valley to our right and a high ridge beyond it to pass a couple of farms and reach a lane. Here we turned right, with distant glimpse of Leith Hill, the scene of a walk we did in 2009.

This soon entered woodland and twisted and turned to bring to where we had parked on the north east edge of Black Down.

Conditions: pleasant, if a bit grey.

Distance: 2.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 133 (Haslemere and Petersfield). Should be the only map we will need!

Rating: three stars. A very pleasant walk. It was very enjoyable to be out in the fresh air, but I couldn't find much in the way of photographic opportunities. Perhaps we were too busy talking!