Joined September 2018 Message
  • Day465

    Fantastic beasts and where to find them

    November 19 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    The idea for this post came from Atlas Obscura (thanks Ant) - an online catalogue of unusual / obscure travel destinations - and its entries for Cambridge.
    Perusing this, I saw the entry for "Reality Checkpoint"; this is a large cast-iron lamppost with intertwined, wide-eyed dolphins on its base, and is situated in the middle of Parker's Piece at the intersection of the park's diagonal paths. I have walked past this many, many times and never really clocked it! I had to go and see it - check the Atlas Obscura entry on-line or Wikipedia for the theories regarding its curious name.... 

    I also saw in Atlas Obscura the entry for the Corpus Clock and Chronophage ("time eater") which overlooks King's Parade at the junction with Bene't Street.  It features a large, toothed grasshopper devouring time and is particularly interesting on the hour and at night; I have seen and photographed this before.

    So, what other beasts are on display in Cambridge?
    From the University's perspective, the Great Gate of St John's College features mythical beasts called yales - these have elephants' tails, antelopes' bodies and goats' heads, with horns which can, supposedly, swivel from back to front.  Heading from here to Downing Street, we reach the University Museum of Zoology and see an excellent display showing the diversity of animal life.
    Shopping at Scotsdales Garden Centre along Cambridge Road is also interesting; you never know what you might see lurking in the undergrowth surrounding the displays.....
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  • Day463

    A place of springs, cliffs and lakes

    November 17 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    Who would have thought that the beautiful university city of Cambridge would contain these geographical features within its boundaries?  The idea for this post came from Cambridge Critique, an occasional email on the local cultural scene, describing some local hidden delights; visiting these made for a really enjoyable few hours out and about.
    Nine Wells is a small area of woodland and nature reserve close to Addenbrooke's Hospital; concealed within the trees are four natural springheads.  Hobson's Conduit was constructed in 1610 to bring water from here to the city in order to sanitise the open sewers and to provide water for the population (see Cambridge Urban Ramble, part 3); water continues to flow into Cambridge to this day.  It is a lovely place to walk around and there is also a monument to Hobson's Conduit here.
    It is short drive from Nine Wells to Cherry Hinton, where hidden between Fulbourn Road and Limekiln Road are the Cherry Hinton Chalk Pits - a 12 hectare site.  It was astonishing to see this for the first time after many, many years of living in the Cambridge area!  It is possible to discern coloured strata in the rocks, showing the levels of ancient seas that used to cover Eastern England.
    A couple of miles away close to where Mill Road meets Brooks Road is access to a walk that runs alongside a clear chalk stream known as Cherry Hinton Brook; it is called "Snakey Path" and it was another first for me - the walk passes several designated City Wildlife Sites.  Concealed behind a fence and trees are two old chalk pits that have been filled to form private fishing lakes.  Occasionally there are some wonderful views across these impressive stretches of water.
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  • Day64

    Dartford, part 3; The Rolling Stones

    November 2 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    It is well documented that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were brought up in Dartford; they went to the same infants school, but different secondary schools, before being reunited on platform 2 of Dartford Railway Station - Mick was carrying blues records and they got chatting.  The rest is history!

    As a young child, Mick lived in Denver Road, attending Wentworth Primary School before moving on to Wilmington, near Dartford, where he was brought up as a teenager; the current owners of thease two properties apparently do not want signs there.  As a young child, Keith lived round the corner to Mick along Chastilian Road in a flat above what was a greengrocer's and went to Wentworth Primary School as well, before moving to Spielman Road on Temple Hill; these two properties have a blue plaque and a sign, respectively, to celebrate Keith's residency in them.

    Whereas Keith went to Dartford Tech, Mick went to Dartford Grammar School; the Mick Jagger Centre is a performing arts venue on the grounds of the school and was opened in March 2000.  Mick is also present in the town as a life-size sculpture by a commemorative bench in Dartford Central Park; he is joined there by sculptures of two other memorable sound makers from Dartford - a Vox amplifier, invented in the town in the 1950s, and a Dartford warbler, first spotted on nearby Dartford Heath.  The first Vox amplifier was made along Dartford Road, which is en route to Crayford, and there is a plaque outside the building to commemorate this; Vox amplifiers were used a lot by top British bands in the 1960s including the Shadows, the Beatles and the Yardbirds.
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  • Day64

    Dartford, part 2; historic town centre

    November 2 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    The Romans paved over an ancient Celtic trackway as part of their main Dover to London road and crossed the River Darent by ford (hence the name Dartford).

    We start on the far side of the River Darent, a tributary of the Thames (see London LOOP post), having crossed the bridge here to view the Holy Trinity Church. We cross back over the bridge onto the High Street to see the other side of the church, which is close to the Wat Tyler pub. Wat Tyler is famous for having been a leader of the Kentish part of the 1381 Peasants Revolt, basically an uprising about workers rights. Close by, on One Bell Corner, is a large mural entitled 'One Town That Changed The World" celebrating "the pioneering industrial heritage of Dartford".

    The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel is Dartford's oldest inn and pilgrims were able to stay here (as well as that originally on One Bell Corner) in medieval times on The Pilgrim's Way to Canterbury and beyond; the inn was rebuilt in 1703 with a gallery overlooking the yard and these both are still visible today (albeit covered now).

    A short walk away is Dartford Priory, England's only Dominican Convent. Founded in 1346, the Dissolution of the Monasteries led to Henry VIII replacing it with a Manor House, of which only the Gatehouse survives.
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  • Day64

    Dartford, part 1; school and other

    November 2 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌬 15 °C

    Born in Erith and raised in Slade Green, but Dartford is where I spent my formative years as this where I went to secondary school; I passed the 11+ exam and went to Dartford Grammar School, DGS (my mum went to DGS for Girls round the corner) - famous alumni from DGS include Mick Jagger (see subsequent post). Although the school was founded in 1576,, the school house dates from 1864; this is where the sixth formers used to hang out at breaks etc and play the music of the day (prog rock and rock in our case). The school motto "ora et labora" means "pray and work" which I have only just found out from Google; I honestly thought it meant "play and work" - a maxim I have adhered to during my life, although not as a result of it being the school motto (which I thought it was!)

    My grandad lived with us in Slade Green for several years in the late 1960s and used to come to Dartford to go to The Malt Shovel pub to read his paper and drink real ale in the wood panelled tap bar there; unfortunately, the pub was closed when I visited on a Monday, but I have been there many times previously. It was, and still is, a Youngs pub and grandad and my uncle (his son, mum's brother) got me into real ale and I have been drinking it all my life.

    Some parts of Dartford have been modernised beyond recognition but other parts are still as they were; not far from the railway station, the Orchard Theatre has a modern clock tower by it and on the other side of town - passing through the historic centre (see next post) - we have the 1916 Dartford Central Library and Museum on the edge of Central Park.
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  • Day3

    Westbury White Horse and Avebury Henge

    October 19 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    Wiltshire is well known for its White Horse hill figures and they have become a symbol of the county. The origins of such hill figures are obscure and of the original 13 only 8 now survive; the Westbury White Horse is the oldest and is carved on to a chalk escarpment on the Salisbury Plain. Hill figures lose their shape over time due to growth of vegetation etc and maintenance is necessary; indeed, in the 1950s, the Westbury White Horse was concreted over by the local council! We viewed both from afar and close up on the short walk above it.

    Next stop is Avebury, to see the the Stone Circle. This is a Neolithic henge monument comprising a bank and ditch surrounding a roughly circular flat area; inside this particular henge are two small stone circles within a much larger stone circle - with a diameter of 330m, this is the largest megalithic stone circle in the world. Once again the original purpose is unknown, but construction is thought to have been around 2,600 BC. We enjoy our walk around the entire stone circle; it originally comprised about 100 stones - many are not there now and part of the circle now includes a corner of Avebury village. Another stunning site and a good way to end this visit to Wiltshire.
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  • Day2


    October 18 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 9 °C

    Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument comprising a ring of standing stones set within an earthworks. It evolved in several construction phases, with the third phase being when the iconic Stone Circle was erected using bluestone and sarsen stone (3,000 - 2,200 BC). It was probably constructed for religious ceremonies.

    The entrance to the Stone Circle is where the four vertical stones with three horizontal stones stand. We walk around taking many photos, but they all look quite similar! It is a truly wonderful place to visit.

    Before visiting the Stone Circle, there is an interesting exhibition and the chance to see reconstructed Neolithic houses where the locals lived. On the walk to the Stone Circle we see the Stonehenge Cursus, a 3km ditch built several hundreds of years before, and the cursus barrows, a barrow cemetery.
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  • Day2

    Old Sarum

    October 18 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 10 °C

    Old Sarum was originally an Iron Age Hillfort, built around 400 BC at the intersection of two trade paths, before becoming a Roman and then a Saxon settlement. William the Conqueror used the site to build a Motte and Bailey castle and a cathedral, and King Henry I added a royal palace. The city declined due to a lack of water and being windswept and subsequent arguments between soldiers and clergy, and a new cathedral was built on the Salisbury Plain - the city of New Sarum, or Salisbury as it became, was established.

    It was interesting to walk over the outer bailey, cross the ditch where the drawbridge would have been and go up to the inner bailey where the palace and castle are situated; the remains of the original cathedral are behind, on the outer bailey.
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  • Day1

    Salisbury, part 3; The Cathedral

    October 17 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 12 °C

    Salisbury Cathedral is incredible; it has the tallest spire in the UK (404 feet), as well as the largest cloister and cathedral close. The original site was at Old Sarum, but bad relations between clergy and military led to relocation further south on the Salisbury Plain; building started in 1220. The Cathedral clock (1386) is the oldest in the world and the large font (2008) has reflections.

    The Cathedral is also famous for having the best preserved of the four remaining Magna Carta documents; a replica of this is housed between the magnificent nave and choir - the original, which we saw in the Chapter House, cannot be photographed. The Magna Carta was a Royal Charter of Rights agreed by King John and signed at Runnymede, near Windsor, in 1215 to make peace with rebel barons; it is still cited today as a statement of personal liberty.

    After the truly amazing experience of seeing an original,Magna Carta document, we exit tbe Cathedral via the cloister.
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  • Day1

    Salisbury, part 2; Water Meadows

    October 17 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ☁️ 10 °C

    We leave the town centre via the High Street Gate and enter the beautiful Cathedral Close area; Mompresson House is closed due to the pandemic and the Cathedral itself well deserves a separate post, but it is a great place to see. Ted Heath used to live in the Close at Arundells; this was also closed and both the Rifles Museum and the Salisbury Museum did not appeal after the Cathedral visit (will see next time).

    We cross over the Cathedral green, look at Bishop's Walk and proceed to Churchill Gardens on the River Avon. Then up the Harnham Road to cross the green there back to the Avon to the 16th century Old Mill, now a hotel. This marks the start of the path across the Water Meadows, with its iconic views of the Cathedral. We are reminded of the equally iconic view of King's Chapel Cambridge with cows grazing in front of it.

    It has been a busy day and we relax with excellent beer at The Haunch of Venison later. This pub has "a nationally important historic interior as the main bar, the Commons, is timber panelled and has a rare zinc topped bar" (a quote from Camra - I'm a member of the Campaign for Real Ale).
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