Sunday, 15 March 2015

Brown(e)'s Folly

Nasty attack of inertia this Sunday - nothing of course to do with a very late night? Well maybe

However I remembered that I've never posted these pictures taken late last year high above Bath.

We started the walk near the bottom and it as a nice climb up past caves and woodland. Remains of the quarries used to source the local Bath stone are everywhere. These are the remains of ancient woodland and home to woodpeckers - not that we saw any mind you!
It wasn't hard to spot faces in the rock. This one looks a little stern and forbidding.
 The quarries were closed in the 1930s and the Avon Wildlife Trust which now runs the nature reserve has closed off the entry into the cave system which now provides a home for the Greater Horseshoe Bat which is now getting very rare. They can be seen in the summer at dusk leaving their roosts. 

We resolved at the time that we should go back at an appropriate time of day - maybe now is the time to consider planning an evening picnic up there with some friends.

And the Folly itself - named after it's builder Wade Browne and built in 1848 to provide work for local agricultural workers during a period of hardship. It was later modified to be used for hunting.
Like the quarries it is blocked off so it isn't possible to go in. There is some talk about restoration but I guess there isn't the money for it. The views of Bath from the top must be spectacular.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Wayford Woods

Wayford Woods has been much in the news.

Fairy Control

Another report

I'll admit I'd never heard of the place until this week but as it isn't far my curiosity was piqued so why not. We were expecting it to be busy after all the publicity and it was. Fortunately we parked elsewhere and made the woods just a small part of a much longer walk.

It wasn't what I was expecting. The woods were clearly originally a garden with lots of non native plants and specimen trees. Plenty of rhododendron and camellia, some of which was in bloom and looking very decorative even if they play no part in the native ecosystem.  Nice ghost gums though. Fortunately there is no money to keep the garden maintained and the natural plant life is starting to try and make a comeback. I was interested to see that they had cut through a lot of the ivy stems. Normally this is now left as it provides an important habitat and contrary to popular belief doesn't harm a healthy tree.

An attempt has been made in one place to introduce some other plants.

Very pretty hellebore but it's a shame they've chosen some fancy double hybrid.

And so on to the famous "fairy doors". The cull has obviously started as many trees sported hinges but no doors.

This was a nice use of a tree stump.

 Others I'm afraid just look like litter
This is probably not going to make me popular but the "cull" is well overdue.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus

Had to be a trip to Wales now didn't it!

Having heard the wind in the night trying to strip the tiles off the roof it was rather a releif to be greeted with a bright sunny morning. The forecast wasn't great so we didn't want to go too far.

It's been a few years since I visited Blaenavon.  It was once one of the most important producers of iron in the world and along with the mines a hotbed of early industrial activity - at a huge cost to the landscape. However since the ironworks closed, nature has gradually crept in and reclaimed the land, although the marks are still there to be seen.

Blaenavon is now a World Heritage Site thanks to its  geological features, industrial relics and nationally important wildlife habitats. Good place for a walk then.

 We parked the car by Pen-ffordd-goch pond ( Keepers Pond)  which was built to provide water  for Garnddyrys Forge. The forge was dismantled in the  1860s but the pond remains.

Nature has done a superb job in reclaiming the spoil tips - when I was young there was little green in places. Now the areas of spoil are only visible where the piles are too steep to be easily colonised.

 Fabulous views of the Skirrid. Look at that blue sky

This is the Sugar Loaf taken from the same vantage point as the Skirrid at the same time - typical Welsh weather closing in fast!

Of course face in the other direction and it's all good. Plenty of remaining  scars from the mining. I wonder what they'll make of all this in 2000 years time when the true origins are forgotten. A 20CE hill fort perhaps?

The rain was starting to hit now - with some hail and sleet mixed in so it was time to turn back and head for the car. The most direct route was across the bog and over the rocky summit. So that's where we went.

The bad weather had cut short the walk so it was a quick drive down in Blaenavon and lunch at the Red Lion.

It would have been nice to take a leisurely trip around the Iron Works after lunch but the weather was now completely foul so we saved it for next time.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Afloat on the Ganges - Varanasi

On a cold damp Sunday evening in February - time to revisit the warmth of autumn in India. Well I say warmth; it was actually pretty cold on the Ganges!

Varanasi is one of the most holy cities of India. It's where the devout come to be cremated and their ashes cast into the holy river. At all times there are bodies being cremated on the pyres along the riverside. Day and Night. Those who cannot afford to be cremated ( or can't be under Hindu doctrine) are wrapped and the bodies themselves cast into the water. Yes we did see them floating past and no I did not take pictures of them.

Having arrived by overnight sleeper in Varanasi ( an experience in itself....) we spent the evening on the river to witness the regular evening worshipping rituals for the holy river.

The side of the river is covered with "ghats" which are riverside steps leading down to the river. This one belongs to the Jain temple.  Jainism is an ancient religionthat teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. 

We were just waiting for it to get dark so that the ceremonies could begin.

 The locals are expert at extracting the tourist $$ and everywhere these little floating candles were available to be bought. Made of dried leaves and little pats of clarified butter and decorated with dried flowers these diya were for sale in their hundreds. 

We were far from the only boat on the water and the river was lit - if only for a few minutes at a time - by dozens of these little lights. 

The crowds were starting to gather on the ghats for the worship of the Ganges by the holy men. 

Lots of drumming and chanting and the raising and circling of lights. Whilst this was a big celebration, there were lots of smaller  versions happening along the riverside, some with just one or two participants.

The worship of the river is carried out at both dawn and dusk - so we were of course up at the crack of dawn to get back on our boats....

Sudden large flocks of birds descended from apparently nowhere - it took me a moment to realise that food was being flung overboard from some boats for them. Feeding birds brings good Karma and I guess feeding birds on a holy river brings very good Karma. 

It was pretty cold though - so much for India being hot. Still it was well worth it to have been able to see the sun rise over the Ganges.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha

This was one of the real highlights of the trip for me - if not the chief one of all.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 BCE in the famous gardens of Lumbini. This makes it one of the holiest places of one of the world's great religions - in fact one of the four most holy places for Buddhists.

The site is still being developed but there are remains Additionally there are the excavated remains of Buddhist  monasteries  of the 3rd century BCE to the 5th century CE and the remains of Buddhist stupas (memorial shrines) from the 3rd century BCE to the 15th century CE.  It has clearly been a place of pilgrimage for millennia.

And it still is . The actual birthplace has been protected within a new building and there are no concessions to the tourists. In fact we were lucky to get entry tickets.  You enter the courtyard barefoot and join the queue along the raised walkway over the remains of more buildings to pay your respects at the stone which marks the place of birth. No photos are allowed inside.

There is no restriction outside though.

The setting is beautiful. The gardens are well kept and a deep stillness and peace envelopes the land despite the visitors nearly all of whom are devout Buddhists.

 Maya Devi,the mother of the Buddha , was said to be  spellbound to by the beauty  of Lumbini and gave birth under the Sal tree.  The tree is still revered today and there is a shrine with offerings tended there.

It's encircled by a ring of holy men with their alms bowls. To give to them is to invite good karma.
The sacred bathing pool known as Puskarni. It is believed that Maya Devi took a bath in this pool before the delivery. 
This is an amazing place. Words just can't do it justice. Long may it remain so. Will UNESCO be able to balance the numbers of visitors which can only increase with keeping it an active place of holy pilgrimage. One  can only hope so . This is a very special place indeed.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Taj Mahal

Well so much for the resolution to update more often. It's not for the want of material - more the want of time I'm afraid. This working thing really does get in the way of the important stuff. However it is necessary if I want to do the important stuff I guess...

I haven't even got around to posting any pictures from the trip to India an Nepal just before Christmas so I think a few of the Taj Mahal would be a good place to start. I've been to Southern India before but only got as far as Delhi so this was a new experience.

As seems to happen far too often we were up before the dawn.  Well before the dawn. Before breakfast even....

We weren't even first in the queue.

   However it was worth it as we were near enough to the front to get some pictures of   the Taj Mahal just as dawn broke and before the crowds.

A little later! The sun is up, the crowds have arrived and the building has changed colour from a pale pink to a warm glow. Amazing

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the Mausoleum itself but we were able to walk around the platform and go inside.

The quality of the painted decoration is incredible

As are the views over the Ganges despite the early morning mist.

The locals weren't much disturbed by us either! It was then back to the hotel to see if any breakfast was left. A very early start but an opportunity to see an iconic building at its very best.

Worth it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Walking with the Long Man of Wilmington

It's been a while - life is getting just too busy at the moment but the wanderings are still continuing. Maybe my resolution ( if I was the type to make them) should be to blog more regularly in 2015. It's not as though I don't have enough photographs.

OK - so as we were spending New Year with some friends in Chichester it seemed a good opportunity to shoot past them and go and see the Long Man first. I find these hill figures fascinating. So little is known about them, their age is a matter of hot debate and why were they considered so important?

He's about 72 mt tall and doesn't stand out that well at the moment. It didn't help that when we arrived the winter sun was low in the sky despite it being only just after lunch. I had to wait until it dipped below the hill in order to take any distant pictures of him and the colour has suffered as a result.

To me he looks very much like he has opened a door into the hillside to pass out into this world or of course to invite us in!

 He's been fenced off to stop him being walked on but the enclosure is huge and you really can't get anything like close unless you climb over the barbed wire which wouldn't be hard. Given though that you really can't see him from close up I chose to be "good".

I wanted to see the view from the top and it's a good pull up. The chalk is sculpted into some interesting features so it's an interesting climb visually when you stop to catch your breath.

He certainly has a lovely view to enjoy as he stands there on the hillside.

There are also a number of barrows around which give some credence to the neolithic theory but he could conceivably be as modern as the 17CE.

Somehow though I think he is far older

And of course the obligatory pub without which no trip is complete. The Giants Rest proudly displays a couple of certificates proclaiming it the "most druid friendly pub in Sussex". I wouldn't presume to argue ( nice food too!)

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