Visiting the Old Country, May 2016

I’ve finally managed to get my sorry arse out of the apartment having had the laziest of Sunday’s and so I thought I would jot down a few notes over a Flat White. This is the last Sunday of my second trip back to the UK this year. It’s been a long trip; four weeks but feels so much more. Unfortunately it will be less than four weeks before I’m back again for another month. While these visits play havoc with my life back home, my plans and more importantly my sleep patterns, they have allowed me to be a tourist in my own country and as such visit a few places which I’ve never been to before, or certainly not for many years.

As always when I sit down to write a post I am reminded how little I retain in my mind these days; if I don’t write it when it happens it seems to be lost. Perhaps a few sparks may ignite as I work.

The late flight in was not enough to stop me being awake at 4 am the following morning. As I was not heading down to see Lauren until the following day I had to find something to do. I could sit and watch telly or, as was the decision, I could head into London and be a tourist.

I was still at school the last time I visited St Pauls Cathedral. It was a school trip but I don’t actually remember how old I was or which school I was at. Somewhere I am sure I still have some photos!

St PaulsHaving not seen Steve during my previous trip I messaged him to see if he was about. We met up at his place round the back of Kings Cross and jumped on a bus into the city. A few hours wondering around St Pauls and then lunch wasn’t a bad way to spend the day. With jet-lag kicking in I headed back to Wycombe much earlier then I would have liked.

Steve took this picture from the upper gallery in the dome. I made the Whispering Gallery before height issues forced me back to ground level.

File 22-05-2016, 21 22 42Sunday and I was off to Canterbury to see Lauren. Another early start so I took the scenic route back through the centre of London, past parliament and along the embankment to Docklands, Blackwell tunnel and then the A2 south.

File 22-05-2016, 21 25 47With no plans we just had a lazy walk around the city and cathedral as well as a huge lunch. The weather was superb and the company not too shabby either.

Sadly, as always, work has to interrupt proceedings but as I was staying in Manchester the next weekend I decided to make a visit to the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.

File 22-05-2016, 21 27 31Canals and the inland waterways of Britain have long held a fascination for me. Something about the accessible, living history would be my guess.  It is this interest that is one of the things that makes Australia such an amazing place for me to live. The history in Sydney can be seen, touched and experienced first hand. My visit to Port Arthur, Tasmania, reinforced to me just how recent some the country’s “history” actually is. Many trips are planned to the various convict, mineral and gold mining sites now abandoned around greater Sydney and New South Wales.

The docks, warehouses, cottages and boats were great to see and so a happy few hours was spent looking, enjoying and soaking up the atmosphere.

File 22-05-2016, 21 43 07Being so close to the castles of North Wales it would have been rude not to have visited at least one. Conwy Castle was one of Edward I “ring of steel” designed to suppress the welsh following a revolt. It later played important rolls in various uprisings and was even held by the last native Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndŵr. The fortifications were constructed to encircle the entire town much of which remain and are accessible to this day.

This was my first visit to this part of Wales but I doubt it will be my last. Chips by the sea rounded off a great day.

With the weather set to hold fair on Sunday, actually hotter than Sydney apparently, I headed north out of Manchester for the town of Lancaster.

File 22-05-2016, 21 44 33Lancaster Castle is at the very heart of the city and was until a couple of years back still a functioning prison, the oldest working prison in the country. The building remains an active court, the longest serving court in the country. There have been many famous accused passing through among them the Birmingham Six who where held in the prison as the underground passageway into the court meant that maximum security could be ensured.

Infamous for the number of people condemned to death within the court the process of passing sentence, execution and removal of the dead became very streamlined with the underground passage from gallows to coffin still visible if not, sadly, accessible to the public. Infamous amongst the condemned where the Pendle Witches in 1612.

Both courts can be viewed during the tour as can the route for the accused from prison to dock. When condemned you can actually see where the prisoner was “sent down” to commence their term at Her Majesties Pleasure.

File 22-05-2016, 21 56 06Form Lancaster I headed further north to Pooley Bridge and then up past Ullswater through the lanes and valleys to the tiny hamlet of Martindale and the Old Church of St Martins. This is a truly stunning, peaceful and remote location. It is a place I have visited a number of times since first finding it by pure luck over 25 years ago. While I have changed in so many ways over the years the church, and valley in which it sits, have not changed at all, locked in their own time and space.

Last weekend I was back down south. While watching some rubbish on the TV I picked up another canal location I needed to see.

2016-05-15 11.45.21Edstone Aqueduct on Stratford-upon-Avon Canal is the longest such structure in England, and what an amazing structure it is.  Effectively a long cast iron trough built on top a brick structure where the adjoining tow-path has been build at the bottom of the trough so as the boats pass by they are at eye level.

2016-05-15 10.43.30The whole of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was built on a shoe-string. Bridges and locks where built to the minimum 7ft width wherever possible. One result of this were the ingenious bridges which where constructed in two halves, a gap being left through the middle of the bridge deck to allow the horses tow-lines to be passed through without being unhitched.

At Lowsonford stands an original barrel roofed “Lenghtsmen’s Cottage” which is now owned by the Landmark Trust and available to rent for holidays. During my visit the trust had an open day so I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to have a look around.

2016-05-15 12.25.44 HDR-2Outside, on the bank of the canal, looking down towards the water, was a steel statue by Sir Antony Gormley. I say “was” because I understand it was only there for a year to mark the Landmark Trusts anniversary and was due to be removed in the week after my visit. I have always liked his work and it seems somewhat appropriate in the setting of the canal lock.

My final weekend was much quieter. On Saturday I took a drive back out through the North Wales country side, past Snowden and on to Caernarfon and its magnificant castle. From there I started north back towards Manchester with a detour across the Menai Bridge and into Anglesey, another first for me.

London – a day out …

2014-10-25 13.54.26Saturday 25th October

For some time now I have been seeing pictures of the “Poppies at the Tower“. This is an art installation entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red which is made up of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British military fatality during World War I.

With the poppies due to be removed soon after Remembrance Day, Lauren and I decided that we needed to so see them before they were gone.

2014-10-25 13.23.46A tube trip into the center of London and then a short walk to Tower Hill. We knew we were in the right place as there were hundreds, if not thousands, of other people all keen to see this amazing spectacle. I don’t think anybody could have been disappointed. Even though the weather was overcast, the colour swept round the Tower flowing through the mote between the inner and outer walls. Each of the poppies have now been sold for charity.

While walking round by the Thames side of the Tower, I noticed there appeared to be a Thames Sailing Barge waiting up stream of Tower Bridge; could it be waiting for the bridge to open? Thanks to a quick Google search I confirmed that the bridge had a scheduled lift in just 10 minutes, and so for possibly only the third time in my life I watched Tower Bridge open.

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If you find yourself in this part of London it is always worth checking the Bridge Lift Time.

2014-10-25 14.59.28Having watched the bridge both lift and close, we took a stroll around Saint Katherine’s Dock where we saw Gloriana, the Queens Rowbarge, which had been built for the Jubilee celebrations.

These docks have always held an interest to me as for many years they were owned and developed by my previous employer. To one corner of the docks, facing the river, is a large hotel. When I was a child my father was involved with the hotels construction. It was during a trip to London with my mum to meet him from work that I first saw Tower Bridge lift.

Our next destination was Borough Market. A walk along the north bank from Tower Bridge to London Bridge and then across the river to the south bank. Now London’s foremost food market it has existed since at least 1276. Crammed into a relatively small space underneath the railway tracks, this market is crammed with all things food and drink, from fast food ready to eat, to every kind of ingredient needed to make the perfect meal.


Finally we headed to Carnaby Street as Lauren wanted to visit Johnny Cupcakes, she had seen a T-shirt she wanted, as well as a few other shops around the area. Before heading for the tube and home, we needed to eat. A small restaurant off the main street caught my eye, the Carnaby Burger Company. The food was very good although the tables were a little too close together and the service a little erratic.

A great day all in all, with a number of items planned and several unexpected bonuses.


The London Breed

BZThe following poem was written by Benjamin Zephaniah following a commission received from the Museum of London.

I read this during a recent visit to the Museum of London Docklands and thought it was brilliant; thus I am sharing it here …….

I love dis great polluted place

Where pop stars come to live their dreams
Here ravers come for drum and bass
And politicians plan their schemes,
The music of the world is here
Dis city can play any song
They come to here from everywhere
Tis they that made dis city strong.

A world of food displayed on streets
Where all the world can come and dine
On meals that end with bitter sweets
And cultures melt and intertwine,
Two hundred languages give voice
To fifteen thousand changing years
And all religions can rejoice
With exiled souls and pioneers.

I love dis overcrowded place
Where old buildings mark men and time
And new buildings all seem to race
Up to a cloudy dank skyline,
Too many cars mean dire air
Too many guns mean danger
Too many drugs means be aware
Of strange gifts from a stranger.

It’s so cool when the heat is on
And when it’s cool it’s so wicked
We just keep melting into one
Just like the tribes before us did,
I love dis concrete jungle still
With all its sirens and its speed
The people here united will
Create a kind of London breed.

London Places – Docklands Museum

I have long wanted to visit the Museum of London Docklands as the various docks around London have always held a fascination for me.

The history of London Docklands is the history of the city itself. London exists because of the River Thames and the docks that have been constructed along it. Without the docks London would never have been able to generate the wealth that it did and, arguably, Great Britain wouldn’t perhaps have been so great.

Originally the “docks” would have simply been moorings along the banks of the Thames where ships from around the world would have offloaded their cargos. As trade increased the docks themselves were constructed to make the offloading of goods easier, more efficient and therefore more profitable.

As the Empire grew so did the need for bigger docks in London. London was the largest port in the world and as such the docks were by far the biggest, most impressive and most modern in the world. Many were constructed using private money and were named according to the origin of their goods; West India Docks, East India Docks, Greenland Dock and so on.

Not only are the docks of huge interest in themselves, but the people who lived and worked in the area are also fascinating, from the dockers to the Krays. Plus you also have one of the greatest unsolved mysteries by virtue of “Jack the Ripper”.

The Museum of London Docklands does a brilliant job of walking you through the story from the cities Roman origins to the Blitz and the eventual economic collapse.

If you find yourself in London head out to Canary Wharf via the Docklands Light Railway; enjoy the museum and the surrounding area. It is also a short hop over the river to Greenwich.

I really enjoyed my visit today and will be heading back as I found that there simply wasn’t enough time to take in all the information, exhibits and stories which were on offer.

If you are interested in London and it’s docklands this is an absolute must.Thames_river_1882

London Markets – Part 2

This Sunday, 15th June, was Fathers Day and so as a treat Lauren allowed me to take her out to visit two London markets; Portobello Road which I have wanted to see for many years but never quite made it, and Greenwich which is one of Lauren’s long term favourites.

Portobello Road

This is a world famous antiques market situated in west London. The crazy thing is that it is no more than 30 minutes from home but there always seemed to be something else taking priority.

Unfortunately for us Sunday is the day that most of the market is closed! However there was enough open to get a feel for the place, as well as a number of the amazing shops. One of the best for me was the Portobello Photography Gallery which has some seriously great pictures on display and for sale. Many show the “hidden” side of London with images of places and people that most of us would probably not normally see or notice.

One part of the market which was open was selling street food. My choice was a Cheeky Burger; in fact a cheeky cheese burger without the cheese much to the amusement of the young lady cooking.

Our next visit to Portobello will be on a Sunday, and soon.


Next we headed to South London and Greenwich. This is not perhaps such a famous market, but as a town Greenwich is known the world over for the prime meridian and as the centre of global time!

Greenwich Market is open Tuesday through to Sunday and is crammed packed with antiques, collectables, arts and crafts. Not large, but well worth a look plus you have the opportunity to visit the Cutty Sark, National Maritime Museum, former Naval Hospital and the shops and restaurants which line the streets and river front.

Another aspect of Greenwich is the wonderful architecture which is hidden in the back streets. As with Columbia Road previously, you can get a real sense of the old London by taking a walk off the beaten track.


2014-06-15 15.01.50


London Markets – Part 1

While Lauren was with me in Sydney she had dragged me, reluctantly at first, round a number of the varied markets the city had to offer. By doing that not only had she forced me to learn to enjoy wandering around the stalls but she had also introduced me to such locations as Surry Hills and Paddington, which otherwise I wouldn’t have seen.

Now back home we have decided to make an effort to see more of our own capital city and amongst the many other attractions it has to offer are it’s very own street markets.

London is only about 40 minutes drive or tube ride from home. No time at all and a whole new world to explore and discover.

I have always considered myself to be somebody who knows London having spent time here all my life, but trips like today’s just go to prove I know so little.

Today is about the East End; Columbia Road, Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane; assuming we have the time.

Columbia Road Flower Market

Columbia Road

This was our first stop of the day and by far the most enjoyable – not because there was anything wrong with the rest of the markets, but because in the summer sun Columbia Road is magnificent! We also spent so much time here there wasn’t really enough left to do the others justice.

The area of Columbia Road which hosts the market was lined down both sides of the street with stalls, each stall being completely full of cut-flowers and plants. Everything you need to make the perfect garden either outside or inside your house. Between the stalls was packed with people looking and buying. In addition to the market stalls is a whole range of shops from vintage clothing to cards, as well as cafes, pubs and other eating houses.

Although crazy busy the atmosphere was wonderful. Buskers were playing music and the staff holders were shouting out their traditional patter:

“Never mind Poundland, you’ll be in Wonderland with these prices!” 

“Your neighbours already think you’re rich, they will be convinced when you plant these in your garden!”

This is what makes a London market for me; the patter coupled with the strong east end accent, perfect. I almost expected Del Boy Trotter to be selling out of his suitcase on one of the street corners.

Columbia Road Flower Market is open every Sunday between 08:00 and 15:00. Make the effort, it is well worth it!

2014-06-08 12.26.37Between Columbia Road and Brick Lane there was just time to spot this rather neglected light weight series land rover.

Brick LaneSpitalfields and Petticoat Lane

From Columbia Road we headed to Brick Lane. On a Sunday the streets are full of all manner of goods from second hand bric-a-brac to new clothes, crafts and household goods. This is considered to be the last of the “unlicensed” markets in London so many of the stalls are no more than a selection of items which somebody just wants to get ride of. They turn up with their wares and simply lay claim to part of the pavement!

Brick Lane

There is also the food; street food, stalls, restaurants, every type from every nation. Brick Lane deserves far more time that we had today, so we will be returning.

2014-06-08 13.59.17Next we went to Spitalfields. This couldn’t be more different from the previous two. This is the original covered market site with the traditional fruit and vegetable market having moved to Leyton, East London. The building has been fully renovated and forms the centre piece of the redevelopment of this part of the city.

Everything in this market is structured and formal. There are also a large selection of permanent shops and restaurants which makes the “market” feel more of a shopping centre. That said there are some real quality goods on sales.

Finally we took a quick walk through Petticoat Lane, and it was quick as it was getting late and we were very hot. This market is all about clothes and is back to the traditional format of stalls down the streets.

Well that was our first London Market expedition. There is said to be over 70 markets to visit so more trips are already being planned as well as a revisit to those seen today.

But before I close, I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there is much of London I haven’t seen before. Today I have seen streets and buildings, many dating from the 1860’s, that are of a design and period of history which I find most appealing. Another topic for future posts …..