Friday, 30 September 2016

Blackdown Hill to Wootton Fitzpaine (Wessex Ridgeway [Dorset] 9)

From Blackdown Hill towards Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill

We are nearly at the end of the Dorset section of the Wessex Ridgeway and we've decided on a two-day push to complete it. We pick up the route at Cole's Cross and begin the steady climb up to the top of Blackdown Hill. There is soon a great view back to the southeast of the last two hills we traversed last time: Pilsdon Pen and Lewesdon Hill.

We walk north along the spine of the hill and at the end take a left instead of passing through this inviting gate.

This track descends to join a minor road which leads to the hamlet of Synderford. We take a left and climb up to Yew Tree Farm - we are now heading south, parallel with the ridge of Blackdown Hill. We climb again and follow a field-edge path. Unfortunately, there are extensive electric fences dividing the large field into sections, and none of the gates that farmers usually provide. Eventually we swing right beside a wood. And this large field, a pristine Red Admiral comes and lands right by us to brighten our day.

We cross a road and continue along a track to reach Grighay Farm, rather a handsome building.

Then along farm tracks and across a small field and into a narrow and rather mysterious wood. While we are in the wood it comes on to rain and we emerge into a much more gloomy and damp landscape by Gashay Farm.

We emerge at a road having climbed a large field. There is a pleasant enough view back.

The road soon leads to a complicated junction of small lanes and we follow Hawsmoor Hill, a narrow tarmaced road, to reach Lambert's Castle, a large and rather wonderful iron age hill fort. As we head across it there is a stupendous view to the south and east. It was actually rather hazy and I have used the Haze removal tool in my newly updated version of Photoshop Elements to remove it. The result is a bit too blue, but you can certainly see the horizon more clearly.

The dip in the coastline over to the right is formed by Ridge Cliff on the left and Golden Cap on the right. If you look to the far left, the broad sweep of Chesil Beach is visible, with Portland beyond it.

From the far side of Lambert's Castle we followed a road due south through Coney's Castle and then took a right down towards Wootton Fitzpaine, where we had left the car. The route now went through a massive field of sweetcorn. It was not well marked and we duly lost our way for a while which was a bit frustrating. However, we eventually found our way downhill to the village.

We had parked opposite these fine gates which presumably lead round to the manor house.

Through the gates, just off to the right, is the village church. It is originally 13th century, but has the usual Victorian restorations. Wootton House (I presume) can be seen off to the right - dating from 1765 according to Pevsner, but extended in 1896-7.

Conditions: a lovely sunny day initially, but cloudy and damp later.

Distance: 7.8 miles.

Rating: four stars. Lambert's Castle is arguably one of the most splendid hills in Dorset.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Bilbao: Art nouveau / Modernisme

Concordia station

Bilbao isn't especially known for its art nouveau, but as it grew extensively around the turn of the 20th century, I thought it must be worth seeing what I could find. The excellent map from the Tourist Office described one or two buildings as being art nouveau or Modernismo (Spain's equivalent) and some googling revealed more.  I have headed this post with the incredible entrance to the Santander railway station (La Concordia), which was once of the two great highlights of this walk. There are more details later.

We walked from our hotel down past Plaza Moyua to find Casa Montero (1901 by Louis Aladren) on the corner of Gran Via Don Diego Lopez de Haro and Alameda Recalde. We found the sculptural elements rather overwrought, much as we had in Riga's Quiet Centre, but the windows were magnificent.

And we enjoyed the little flashes of coloured brick and the spectacular main door (peering through, we could just make out beautiful decoration in the lobby).

Our next stop was calle Licenziado Poza 2, the Edificio Guridi (1902, by master builder José Bilbao y Lopategui). This is an absolute marvel of art nouveau, either magnificently maintained or, more probably, recently restored.

The apex of the façade with the sun and plant motifs is quintessential, but also unique, art nouveau …

… and flower motifs are repeated in all sorts of innovative ways all over the façade, for example above and around the windows.

Now down to Plaza Arriquibar to see Azkuna Zentroa. It was built, as Alhondiga Bilbao, in 1909 by Ricardo Bastida and classified as Ecclecticism. There is, I think, enough floral stone carving to qualify as art nouveau, but anyway it is well worth seeing. This massive (in footprint at least - 43,000 square metres) and imposing building was originally a wine warehouse, but in recent times it was converted by the French designer, Philippe Starck, into a cultural and exhibition centre. The facade is almost unaltered.

But the inside has been completely remade and is stunning: you walk into a vast area of tall metal columns with brick structures standing on stumpy decorative columns.

As we wondered round we looked up and suddenly became aware that, yes, there was a swimming pool with a glass floor on one of the upper levels. It was a wonderful sight.

Our next stop was Casa de Viviendas (1902, by Enrique Epalza) on Hurtado de Amezaga on the corner of the junction with Iturrizza. This corner block has the whole corner facade made up of wooden oriel windows – we have seen many houses of this sort of period with these on the main façade, and very attractive they are.

There are nice tiles under the eaves and dragon sculptures on either side of the ground floor windows, but I especially loved the exuberant floral sculpture over the main doorway.

We continued up Hurtado de Amezaga in search of the Teatro Campos Eliseos and stumbled on this entertaining building just before the junction with calle de Bertendona, where the theatre is located.

The tiled and wood oriel window was especially pleasing, as was the floral decoration. The overall effect was perhaps a little over the top.

However, the theatre just round the corner (1902, by Alfredo Acebal and J P Darroquy) was completely over the top, with extravagant sculpture around a giant Moorish arch.

The map classifies this as art nouveau – and in fact it is the only building to be so described – but surely the term Eclecticism was never better applied to a building. It is very eclectic indeed! What I mean is, I hated it.

We returned to Hurtado de Amezaga and continued along it to reach Plaza Circular where we turned right into Navarra. Just before the Arenal bridge to come face to face with the extraordinary entrance to the Santander station (known as Concordia). Like many lines in the Basque country it is a narrow gauge railway.

The station was built in 1902 and seems to have been a collaboration between the engineer Valentin Gorbena and the architect Severino Achucarro, who is credited with the wonderful facade of cast iron and ceremics. There is some slight resemblance to Otto Wagner's contemporary pavilions for the Vienna Metro, although they (Wagner's pavilions) are more delicate.

The tiles in the facade to the side of the main entrance are particularly attractive.

We had now just one more building to see: the Castanos Cultural Centre, located at the foot of the funicular to Artxanda. We crossed Arenal bridge and walked round on the north bank of the river to the Zubizuri (see my post on modern architecture in Bilbao) and followed signs from there.

Rather like Azkuna Zentroa this is an old building which has retained its facade and had a new one inserted inside or in this case behind it. The original building was a public baths by Antiguo Lavadero built in 1910.

It is distinctive for the dense use of tiles and for the beautiful windows - and note the delicate pink flower motifs at the edges of the door and window surrounds.

At this point we headed back to our hotel, but the funicular leads to an excellent belvedere with great views over the whole city and is well worth doing on a nice day.

Conditions: mostly cloudy, but quite warm.

Distance: About 2.5 miles.

Rating: five stars. Concordia station and Edificio Guridi deserve wider fame in the world of art nouveau.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Bilbao: Getxo

Vizcaya Bridge / Bizkaia Zubia

We learned about the amazing Vizcaya Bridge (Bizkaia Zubia in Basque, Biscay Bridge in English) from a visit to the Bilbao Tourist Office and immediately resolved to make it the centrepiece of a walk around part of the estuary of Bilbao. Having yesterday mastered the excellent new tram system, we had no problem with the new Metro. The Metro entrances, designed by Norman Foster, are very distinctive. So much so that there don't seem to be the usual signs with a big "M" that normally indicate the presence of a Metro station.

We heading up to Neguri station in the town of Getxo and then walked down to the large beach which fills one side of the estuary and collected a surprisingly informative map from the Tourist Office there. This is the view towards the mouth of the river; the white houses on the right mark the old fishing port.

We followed the path at the back of the beach to reach a marina. Across the road was an extraordinary sight. It is a set set of viewing galleries designed by Ricardo Bastida in 1918 partly to  act as a retaining wall for the cliff behind.

On the estuary side of the road was the lovely former Arriluce Lighthouse.

While on a ridge on the land side was a series of mansions designed for the wealthy people of this area early in the 20th century. This was one of the most charming, owing a debt to traditional Basque architecture. It was the work of Manuel Maria Smith, a prolific and versatile local architect, and was commissioned in 1909.

 As the estuary and the path turned sharply right there was a fine view back to this whole group.

There were more substantial houses on this section too. This was my favourite: another work my Manuel Maria Smith. The information plaque describes it as being influenced by English cottage architecture, which I found quite amusing.

After passing another, but much smaller, beach we turned a corner and were finally confronted with the fantastic bridge.

The bridge is known locally as the Hanging Bridge - for obvious reasons I would say - but is correctly described as a transporter bridge. It was built in 1893 and designed by Alberto Palacio, a disciple of the great Gustave Eiffel. It is 63 metres high and and spans 160 metres. It the oldest bridge of this type in the world and since 2006 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site. It connects the towns of Portugaleta and Getxo. As well as the gondola crossing, it is apparently possible to get a lift to to the top and walk across. We were feeling the heat and decided against.

Close up it became clear that the gondola (the latest one dates only from 1998) was more complicated than had been apparent at first: the central section has space for six cars and a few motorbikes to drive on, while on either side there are compartments for foot passengers to stand. The crossing fee is very modest - only €.40 per person.

We walked a little beyond the bridge and I took a photo of this nice group of buildings in Portugaleta. The lovely blue and yellow is La Canilla (a former railway station); behind it is the  Basilica of Santa Maria and to the right the 15th century Salazar tower.

We walked back to the bridge and crossed to the other side. The pedestrian compartment was not much wider than a corridor but the ride was smooth and quick. Once in Portugaleta, we heded uphill to find the Metro station passing this lovely art nouveau block on the way.

Our plan was to take the Metro a couple of stops to Santurzi, described by the Bilboa Tourist Office as a fishing village. We imagined a small harbour surrounded by fish restaurants. Wrong! A fishing port certainly, but a town not a village and with a smattering of fish restaurants scattered around it as we learned from the very helpful local Tourist Office in the former fish market. Unfortunately, the fishermen were on holiday and most of the restaurants were closed. However, to be fair, after a bit of frustration we did find very nice place nearby where we had an excellent light lunch of prawns and padron peppers. After this we took the very good Metro back into Bilbao.

Conditions: clear, sunny, very hot (35 degrees).

Distance: about four miles.

Rating: four and half stars. Interesting and varied.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Bilbao: Modern architecture

Abandoibarra from Mount Artxanda

It's late afternoon and we've just arrived in Bilbao after a two-bus journey from Biarritz. Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque region and the 10th largest in Spain with 350, 000 inhabitants, 1 million in the greater metropolitan area. It has the feeling of a big city. We are staying at the Melia hotel in the Abandoibarra quarter, a former port and industrial area next to the Nervion river, which has experienced an ambitious - and highly successful - urban renewal programme. What better way to begin to get to know the city than to walk along the banks of the river past the Guggenheim Museum?

The hotel is itself a striking modern structure. Each of the nine box structures is a wall-to-ceiling bedroom window and inside there is a massive atrium nine or ten storeys high served by fast glass-sided lifts.

We walk down to the river and turn right and are soon struck by an art deco building on the other bank (in Ribera Botica Vieja) featuring a raging tiger on its roof (we thought it was a lion). It was added by the sculptor Joaquin Lucarini in 1942. The building itself dates from 194) and is popularly known as El Tigre.

On the right is the fantastic Iberdrola Tower. It is 165 meters high and was opened by King Juan Carlos I no less in 2012. Iberdrola is the Basque Electric company.

We pass under the Deustu bridge and looking across the Deustu Commercial University we are struck by an elegant columned structure to the left of more traditional university buildings. It seems to be inspired by the Maison Carré, the Roman temple in Nimes.

The main building of the Deustu University is next and it too has a new structure off to one side. This is also rather elegant and seems inspired by the cast iron architecture of the 19th century - a market hall perhaps. (It turns out that the University is a private one owned by the Jesuits.)

We are now on the Pedro Arrupe bridge and we get our first sight of the incredible Guggenheim museum. This view is effectively from behind and includes one end of the La Salve bridge - the red bit.

The museum is the work of the Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry (we saw his Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris last year - there are some small family resemblances.) It was completed in 1997 and, like the Iberdrola Tower, was opened by King Juan Carlos I. It has been widely hailed as one of the greatest modern buildings.

I returned two days later to take a picture of the museum from across the river, looking at it squarely along one side. This view gives a stronger sense of the ship imagery that seems to me to dominate.

The great entrance along the side view also has something suggestive of the shape of a medieval castle surrounded by its moat  (say Ferrara) or maybe the porch of a great cathedral (say Albi).

You can also see, on the left, Maman (1999) the bronze, stainless steel, and marble sculpture by the artist Louise Bourgeois depicting a spider. It is allegedly  among the world's largest, measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide.

Passing under the massive La Salve bridge, we soon start to see the other great architectural icon of this area, Santiago Calatrava's Zubizuri (Basque for White bridge), which opened in 1997.

This was our first proper view: it looks handsome but not that special. There are stairs and walkways to reach the bridge proper and an additional walkway coming in from the right. This is a later addition and although convenient, looks rather awkward. Calatrava fought a legal battle with the Bilbao City Council over this alteration to his work and won damages, although the addition remained.

It is only as you begin to cross it that the asymetrical curving construction - and its full grandeur - become apparent. But even here there is controversy. The surface is covered by a sort of spongy rubber carpet and this covers up the original transparent glass bricks. They were found to be too slippery for the City's damp climate. It is still a great structure though.

We carried on along the river bank to reach the Arenal bridge across which lies the Casco Viejo (the Old Town). We stopped here for a drink and after a productive visit to the Tourist Office enjoyed a quick and smooth ride back to our hotel in one of the new Euskotran trams.

Conditions: clear skies, sunny and hot.

Distance: just over a mile.

Rating: Five stars.


We stumbled on this wonderful building, the Headquarters of the Department of Health of the Basque Government. It really belongs with those above. I suspect the interior is a regular office block, but the extraordinary facade made of reflecting glass projecting at various angles makes an extraordinary impact.

It is called Sede Osakidetza and is on a corner site in the centre of the City at Alameda de Recalde, 39.  It is the work of Coll-Barreu Arquitectos, completed in 2008. You can see a photo study here.