Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Steeple Ashton

The Old Merchant's Hall

After our rewarding exploration of Trowbridge this morning, Merv and I headed out into the Wiltshire country to have an excellent pub lunch at the Longs Arms in Steeple Ashton, three miles away, and then set off for a short country stroll.

Steeple Ashton is a very pretty village and almost the next building along from the pub is the lovely 16th century Old Merchant's Hall. It is not clear how valid the name is as the building was renamed only recently having previously been a Post Office and shop.

A little further along on the opposite side is a delightful assembly of old buildings including a market cross.

Here is another, this time with the front of the village lock-up, known as the Guard House, more clearly visible. Allegedly, it now houses the lawn mower used to cut the village green.

A bit further long the main street we made a detour to the right to see the handsome 15th century church of Church of St Mary the Virgin. The tower was once completed by a spire but the spire was struck by lightning and rebuilt in 1670, only to be struck by lightning a second time and not rebuilt again.

We returned to the main street and retraced our steps to turn right along a path in the direction of West Ashton. A lovely green lane soon awaited us.

This is now an area of arable farming and soon a nicely marked path across a massive field showed us the way ahead.

After a while we caught a glimpse of a tower behind a beautiful copper beech. This it turned out was Rood Ashton House. The current house was built in 1808 for the Long family (cf the pub), replacing an earlier mansion, by the architect Jeffrey Wyattville.

After the death of Lord Long in 1930 it seems to have declined and in the 1950s it was sold at auction to an American buyer who stripped it anything of value, leaving a derelict shell. In the 1970s the building was demolished except for an eight-bedroomed servant’s wing, which has been restored with reclaimed timbers and is now a private residence.

We didn't go as far as West Ashton, but turned back across another large field, passing a farm.

Soon we had a nice view of St Mary the Virgin and after a lovely green lane and a field-edge path, a pollen-laden trek across a field of rape-seed brought us back to the village.

Condutions: warm, but hazy.

Distance: probably only 3 miles.

Rating: three and half stars. A very pleasant stroll from a delightful village.


Trowbridge Town Hall

Another town walk with my friend Merv, this one starting from the late Victorian Town Hall (1887-9) in Market St. Next door is the attractive Italianate Market House of 1861. It seemed to be empty, having most recently been a pub.

We headed along the pedestrianised street opposite, Fore St, and admired the upper story of a bookmaker's on the right.

We passed some elaborate Georgian banks and turned left down Wicker Hill, with a fine array of 18th century mansions on the right.

This one, currently To Let, was particularly splendid.

At the bottom there was the town lock up, right by the bridge just like the one in Bradford-on-Avon.

The bridge was a bit of s disappointment, but the background illustrates the large area of former cloth mills awaiting development.

Off to the left was a very interesting industrial survival, the Handle House. It was used to dry Teasels for raising the "nap" on woollen cloth.

We doubled back to Church St where the church of St James is to be found. Pevsner describes it as "Large and Perp (Perpendicular) throughout" ... except for a radical rebuilding in 1847-8.

This interesting little building sat on the opposite side of the churchyard, but I could not discover what it was.

Diagonally opposite the church were the impressive Union Street Almshouses of 1861.

We returned to Market St and continued along to Roundstone St to admire another couple of Georgian mansions. Firstly, Rodney House of about 1800 ...

... and Polebarn House, now a hotel, of 1789.

We turned right into Polebarn Road to find some more almshouses, Lady Brown's Cottage Homes of about 1845. They consisted on two single story blocks with huge chimneys. Very picturesque.

We returned to Roundstone St to see the rather plain Yerbury Almshouses (1679, rebuilt 1914) on a corner.

We completed our visit by seeing two sets of outlying Almshouses. Firstly, the attractive Palmer Almshouses, erected in 1892, in Islington (that's the name of the road) ...

... and then the more austere Timbrell Cottages of 1838 in Bradley Road.

Conditions: bright and sunny.

Distance: perhaps 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. An interesting town, well worth a visit.

Saturday, 27 April 2019


 Tolpuddle: The Martyrs' Tree

Tolpuddle is of course the home of the famous Martyrs: six farm workers who were members of a trade union,  Friendly Society for Agricultural Labourers and who were sentenced to transportation to Australia on dubious charges of swearing an illegal oath. The real reason was that the local squire wanted to stamp out the union. They were pardoned three years afterwards and returned to England. The London Dorchester Committee raised funds with public support to buy leases on farms in Essex for the returning Martyrs. Five of them still campaigned for working men's rights, supporting the Chartist movement, while one stayed quietly in Tolpuddle. The five in Essex never felt comfortable there and emigrated to Canada.

We started our walk at the Martyrs Tree, where the union members were supposed to have met. Nearby is a shelter erected as a memorial in 1934.

We headed up the main street lined with thatched cottages ...

... passing the 13th century church, where one of the Martyrs was buried ...

... and going beyond the designated path to have quick look at the Martyrs Museum.

In 1934 the TUC decided to build a lasting tribute to the Tolpuddle Martyrs by building six cottages to accommodate retired agricultural trade unionists. The section under the middle gable is the small but informative museum.

Returning the path, we headed north, passing a house with a massive tent (teepee? yurt?) in the back garden.

We headed uphill into a wooded area where we delighted to immediately spot some Meadow Browns and Orange Tips. We passed under the busy A35 and walked diagonally across a field. Further along, three horses in a field spotted us and charged across to say hello. They were so quick that I could only get two of them in my photo.

 Now there was a nice view to the west ...

... and a bit further on one also westwards towards Crawthorne Farm, which together give a good sense of the countryside.

We turned right (i.e. east) along a track at the top of a field and saw more more Orange Tips (mainly females - noticing how the grey markings on the underwings extend to the corners of the upper wings.

We passed some derelict barns and descended into what the walk book calls a "secret green valley". I am not sure about secret, but it was visually very pleasing.

We turned right, with the iron age hill fort of Weatherby Castle above us on the left.

Soon we entered a green lane and began to descend towards the A35, crossing a foot bridge to reach the other side. We then joined a road down into the village again.

Conditions: bright but very windy.

Distance: 4.5 miles.

Map: Explorer 117 (Cerne Abbas & Bere Regis.

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA).

Rating: four stars. An interesting mixture of heritage, country and a few butterflies.

Friday, 26 April 2019

The Blue Pool and East Creech

A short afternoon walk with our friends Dave and Chris. We started at Furzebrook, south of Wareham and headed along the road to find the first landmark described in our walk book: a telephone box. Alas this was now defunct.

We turned left along the track which led to the Blue Pool and paid the entrance fee to see it. We followed the path anti-clockwise and soon had our first glimpse.

There was a general feeling that it wasn't as blue as expected, and this was strongly borne out from another angle further round.

The gardens were just beginning to come into flower and when the rhododendrons are fully out will no doubt be delightful.

We left the Pool and resumed the walk route along a track which emerged into an area of heathland. We followed a clockwise arc through heathland, gorse and heather, and then a damp area with moss and lichen and overgrown pools. We had now joined a section of the Purbeck Way. We emerged onto a quiet road and now had some fine views of the Purbeck Ridge, looking towards the west.

We passed East Creech farm and its associated buildings and continued up the road to turn right at the next farm. I loved this tree in full blossom.

A field edge path soon brought us to an area of very attractive heathland.

We soon discovered however that a large area of it had been cleared and many trees felled. It seemed to be part of a nature reserve and we supposed there was some robust habitat management underway. We left the heathland and passed an isolated house, agreeing that none of us would want to live there, to soon reach Furzebrook again.

Conditions: bright and reasonably warm.

Distance: four miles (including the Blue Pool).

From: 50 walks in Dorset (AA).

Map: Explorer OL15 (Purbeck & South Dorset).

Rating: four stars. A delightful stroll.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Kings Cross

Coal Drops Yard: Thomas Heatherwick's attic buildings

We have been hearing a lot about the redevelopment of King's Cross and we decided it was time to see how things have developed since we last explored the area (in 2014). We started this walk at Kings Cross station - so much better for the removal of the awful 1960s accretions in front of the train shed.

Walking along the east side of St Pancras we admired the lines of the renovated Great Northern Hotel as it curved around a corner. The hotel was designed by Lewis Cubitt and was one of the earliest purpose-built railway hotels in the country.

The first building of the main Kings Cross redevelopment was the German Gymnasium. Surprisingly, it was actually built (in 1864-65) for the German Gymnastics Society. Designed by Edward Gruning, the German Gymnasium was the first purpose-built gymnasium in England. Who knew? It is now a restaurant.

Looking back, we had  great view of the east side of St Pancras.

We continued along Kings Boulevard, where a number of high rise buildings are going up.

We turned left at the end and crossed the canal. Beyond the popular seating area, were the canalside Fish and Coal buildings (now known as the Coal Office) which were built in 1851 as part of Lewis Cubitt’s design for the Goods Yard. They originally housed clerks who were employed to monitor the flow of coal through the yards.

From here we entered Coal Drops Yard. A pair of brick warehouses which were built in the 1850s and 60s to transfer coal arriving on rail wagons to road carts for distribution through London. The modernised structure, linked by Thomas Heatherwick's beautiful curving attic is intended to be the shopping hub of the redevelopment.

There are some nice touches, like these plant pots arranged as a swathe through a pedestrian area.

We continued northwards passing this fountain-cum-splash-pool which was being enjoyed by one brave young man.

At the end we found the Aga Khan Centre,  "a place for education, knowledge, cultural exchange and insight into Muslim civilisations" according to its website. It was certainly an impressive building and we were delighted to find we could just wander and look around part of it.

We doubled back and headed west to see The Gasholders: luxury apartments imaginatively constructed inside three defunct Victorian gas holders. Or, more accurately, the appartments were built first and the restored framework was reassembled around them. They make a great sight.

Nearby is Gas Holder number which was also dis-assembled, renovated and rebuilt, in this case to hold an area of green space. We first saw it on a walk around St Pancras and Camden Town in 2014. It is remarkable how different the area now is.

Here is the nearby canal lock, with more new buildings in the background.

Over to the left of the lock is this rather wonderful brick structure. I am not sure of its function  a water tank for trains perhaps?

We returned past the massive Granary Building, now home to the Central St Martins school of art.

Conditions: cloudy, but quite warm.

Distance: 2-3 miles.

Rating: 5 stars. We really loved it.