UK 2019 Day 14: Big Pit National Coal Mine and Newport Transporter Bridge

Posted March 22, 2020

May 22, 2019

Our final “big day” on our UK trip was back to Wales and a tour of the Big Pit National Coal Mine in Blaenavon (that’s near Pontypool, if that helps?) [map]. Last active in 1980 after 100 years of operation, the mine is now run as a museum and national heritage site. Most of the tour guides are former miners who, along with their first-person accounts and in-depth knowledge of mining history, have become perfect ambassadors for their contributions to history.

Entry sign that says
What is a mine, after all?

Mrs. Lonely Birder’s family comes from a strong tradition of mining and related work in the coal regions of Appalachia. Generations of her family have worked the mines and even lived in mining camps and towns. These people are hard working and proud. There can be no denying coal’s importance to the development and transformation of modern life around the world. As we struggle to adapt to new power sources and new understandings of the environment, it’s all too easy to lump in the miners and the equipment operators and the truck drivers with the “coal industry” and bad mouth the whole lot. Fossil fuels are indeed responsible for as much negative transformation of the environment as they have been necessary for the advancement of modern technology. Even as that trade-off has become unbalanced and we recognize the need to move away from coal and other fossil fuels, we should not forget the debt we owe to the miners and their families for providing the power to live our relatively comfortable lives.

A toddler, wearing her father's mining helmet and partly covered in coal dust, sitting in her father's lap.
My father-in-law with his Coal Miner’s Daughter, in the early 1970s, West Virginia.

It was eye-opening to delve into the mine and see the conditions and equipment used through the 100 years of mining on-site. Some of the scenes depicted in the display spaces and videos would be instantly as recognizable to someone from West Virginia as Wales.

Photo display of Big Pit miners after their shift.
Photo display of Big Pit miners after their shift.

They did not allow any photos to be taken inside the mine. We rode the same cage (the large elevator) as the miners did when the mine was operational, and observed the same safety rules. Nothing was allowed down the mine that could generate any kind of spark. There was always the danger of natural gas or coal dust exploding, more then than now. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Mining elevator with a large No Smoking sign on it.
This cage (as the miners called the elvator), crammed with miners, was the only way in or out of the mine.

We saw some areas that were restored to a turn of the 20th Century set-up, with pit pony stalls and equipment. These ponies might not see the light of day for their whole lives once in the mine. That finally changed when mining safety and health regulations were changed and they were allowed on occasion to have a break and more humane treatment by the early 1900s. Human health and safety regulations were also updated. Child labor was common throughout the 18th and 19th Century coal mines, but eventually was legislated out.

A few more displays showed the working mine through the 20th Century, leading up to it’s eventual closure in 1980. By then, the mine was not profitable enough to keep open.

Intermission: Roast Ox Crisps

After our mine tour, I had one bit of unfinished business that I was finally able to complete on this trip.

Years ago my life was changed when my big brother and I stumbled onto the local PBS channel showing this amazingly violent (at least for its time) and hilarious comedy from the UK called The Young Ones. Think “The Three Stooges” meets “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” and you’re most of the way there.

Cast photo of The Young Ones.
Neil (Nigel Planer), Rick (Rik Mayall), Mike (Christopher Ryan), and Vyvyan (Adrian Edmonson) – The Young Ones. Rik Mayall passed on a few years ago. R.I.P. (P)Rick!

The show ran for 2 series in the early 1980s, and was important for introducing me to the band Motorhead during one of the show’s at-times random musical intermissions.

Rock band lead singer close up, wearing sunglasses and singing close to microphone.
The late Lemmy Kilminster with his classic shades and trademark mustache. Built for speed until the end.

One episode has the boys head to the local pub, where Madness is just finishing up a set. Vyvyan is about to go order their food at the bar, and Neil asks for something vegetarian so Vyvyan promptly orders a bag of roast ox crisps.

Imagine as a preteen in 1980s suburban America, where at the time the most exotic crisp (potato chip) was probably either salt and vinegar or if you lived near Canada, ketchup. Roast ox chips sounded so preposterous and amazing!

Fast forward to The Big Pit mine visitor’s cafeteria in 2019. I’d mentioned roast ox crisps during our trip and had been told by our friends that THEY DO EXIST! It took some time and hunting, but finally we found some in the snack bins. They were every bit as amazing and terrible as I had hoped!

A bag of roast ox crisps
“Oh, just a bag of crisps please, Vyv. But, not meat flavored. Because I don’t abuse my body and the world I live in.”

My friends and followers in the UK are probably wondering what the fuss is about. After all, there is a dizzying array of crisp flavors available there (like prawn cocktail and Worcestershire sauce). Only now is the US getting caught up, though the specific flavors differ (grilled cheese and tomato soup and roast chicken are fairly new here).

And We’re Back

After leaving the mine, we stopped in Newport on our way back to Bristol to check out the Newport Transporter Bridge [map]. This engineering marvel was built in 1906 as a means of crossing the River Usk, which had some specific challenges. The banks are low, but the span quite wide. A bridge needed to span the distance while allowing for ships to pass, and a drawbridge would be impractical. The solution was to erect two tall towers on either side and have a transport car, hung from above, operated by cables. This way, the transport car would be safely on the banks of the river while a ship passed.

Steel towers with a catwalk suspended by cables high above.
A view of the transporter bridge. The gondola is the light teal object near the bottom of the tower on the left.
Ferry gondola hanging beneath a steel tower.
Close up of the gondola, on the far bank.

On the day we went, the gondola was closed for maintenance, unfortunately. But the towers and catwalk above were open. It’s over 60 meters (nearly 200 feet) to the catwalk, up an unrelenting set of stairs. Having spent most of the last 17 years in Florida, you can imagine this was no small task (in fact, it was a crash course in relearning hills and stairs for two weeks, since we arrived).

View of a muddy river and some industrial buildings in the distance.
A view of the river and surroundings from part way up the stairs.

The bridge is open to visitors and tourists until late afternoon, so we had to hurry up and across and back without much time to rest or take in views. Mrs. Lonely Birder opted not to make the climb, so the remaining three of us clambered up.

These catwalks were designed for maintenance, and allow access to the suspension cables and upper superstructure.

Looking along the upper structures of a suspension bridge and catwalk
I thought the bridge looked very well maintained for something over a century old.

The views we did get from the catwalk were spectacular, and the weather was particularly nice.  The River Usk is a tidal river here, and you can see the tide was out, exposing a lot of mud near the river banks.

An arch bridge and buildings in the middle distance, a river in the foreground, and distant hills.
A river view and City Bridge, in Newport.
buildings and tress with rolling hills
Newport and the Welsh countryside beyond.

We managed to get back down to the visitor center in plenty of time, and had a nice chat with the person there before heading back to Bristol and getting ready for another evening and then another day. I think Wales is rather pretty, and if we get a chance to go back to the UK, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of it than we had time for. Diolch a ffarwel, Cymru!

UK 2019 Day 13: St. Mary Redcliffe

Posted March 1, 2020

May 21, 2019

After almost two weeks of intense riding around England and Wales (Darren and Ruth doing all the driving, bless their souls), we took a slightly slower day and focused on Bristol itself. We did have a lovely visit to the Bristol Museum [map], which is probably one of the better local museums, but decided to leave the picture taking behind. But the centerpiece was the church of St. Mary Redcliffe [map].

Gothic church with spire.
St. Mary Redcliffe is situated right inside urban Bristol, so there aren’t many clear overviews of it. This view is looking east.

This church building has been called the epitome of high English Gothic architecture, and it isn’t hard to see why. The ornate stonework and tracery, as well as the flying buttresses and the tall spire, mark this – one of the largest parish churches in England – a real stand-out. Queen Elizabeth I is said to have described it as “the fairest, goodliest, and most famous parish church in England.”

Stone church facade with tall arched winows and flying buttresses.
Part of the northern facade of the church. The tower and spire are just off to the right.

Inside, the church as a couple items of historical note. There’s a model of John Cabot’s ship, The Matthew, to commemorate his 1497 voyage to North America, as well as a piece of whalebone he brought back to England. We had visited the observation tower named for Cabot on our first day in Bristol. Cabot’s expeditions sailed from Bristol under the commission of King Henry VII.

Whalebone affixed to the interior wall of a church, by a stone archway.
Whalebone from North America, via John Cabot’s expeditions in the 1490s.

There is also a wooden carving of Queen Elizabeth I, dating from her reign (likely circa 1570). She is known to have visited the church in 1574, but I don’t know if the carving was already there, or done later to commemorate her visit. It is remarkably well preserved, though I suspect the paint’s been touched up now and then.

Painted wooden carving of Queen Elizabeth I
HRH’s likeness in painted wood.

The rest of the interior is quintessentially Gothic, with high, almost delicate looking arches and vaulting and exquisite stained glass. Much of the original stained glass was destroyed during the Reformation, but later replaced. Bombing in the second world war destroyed the glass on the west side, and was replaced again.

Church interior with high vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows at the far end.
A view along the nave toward the restored stained glass on the west side of the church.

That bombing could have destroyed the church, and a poignant reminder of that is a section of tramline (from a light rail system) that was blown up and onto the church grounds, where it remains today as a memorial and reminder.

Memorial plaque and tramline (rail) section stuck in the ground behind it.
This section of rail was left embedded where it landed after a German bombing in 1941. On Good Friday, to be exact. [Thanks, Mrs. Lonely Birder for the photo!]
St. Mary Redcliffe’s interior is stunningly beautiful and, like most Gothic churches, airy and open. It’s tempting when we hear “Gothic” and architecture of the Middle Ages (“The Dark Ages”) to think of heavy, dark, and oppressive themes. But on the whole, this church and the other medieval structures we saw during our visit, were more atmospheric and almost ethereal. The designers were building these spaces to evoke heaven and salvation, and that’s very much reflected in this church.

04_St-Mary-Redcliffe_04
Another interior view of St. Mary Redcliffe. The ceiling decorations are more golden than what shows up in this photograph, but really, no photos truly do justice to this amazing place.

As a final note to this spectacular church, the tall spire you can see today was finished in 1872. The original was destroyed in a storm – perhaps struck by lightning – in the 15th Century. For much of it’s existence, the church had short, truncated cone cap on its tower.

South_Porch_of_St_Mary_Redcliffe_Church,_Bristol_c.1791-2
This watercolor by J. M. W. Turner shows St. Mary Redcliffe with its truncated spire. It would be almost 80 years before the current spire would be built. Image copyright Bristol Culture.

 

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One final look at St. Mary Redcliffe and its spire.

We also visited the M Shed museum, though we took no photographs as some areas expressly forbade it, and we were so engrossed that we didn’t think of it! There were some interesting Banksy pieces and some great tributes to Bristolians and their city. If you visit Bristol, M Shed is a must-see!

 

UK 2019 Day 12: Part 2, The Bishop’s Palace and a Little Bite of Cheddar

Posted November 14, 2019

And we’re back!

We had a good look at Wells Cathedral in Part 1, so let’s continue on to The Bishop’s Palace.

May 20, 2019

24_Bishops_Palace_01
The palace has been extensively modified and added to over the course of 800 years, and is reflective of many architectural styles.
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Some parts of the palace are ruins or have been adapted, like this wall which now forms part of the enclosure for a large lawn space.

The grounds were fairly extensive, with opportunities to see many stages of development and abandonment. They also serve as space for art – both secular and religious – and even political expression.

Stature of a person in a tunic.
There were nice art installations – some religious, some secular – throughout the grounds.
Colored glass sculpture shaped like bird wings.
Stained glass wing sculpture (there were a couple of them).
33_Bishops_Palace_wings_10
MCU Falcon character reboot?

Many of the ruins on the palace grounds are at least somewhat intentional. As parts fell into disrepair, the structures were modified to be “more picturesque” as successive bishops and architects sought to mold the expansive ruin to their own ideals.

35_Bishops_Palace_12

The formal gardens and landscaping are indeed beautiful, and the views of the Cathedral itself are as worthy as any artistic masterpiece, in my opinion.

Stained glass arch window with topiaries in the foreground.
Looking in on the Bishop’s Chapel
A pond with evergreen and deciduous vegetation behind and water plants in the foreground.
Springs and gardens on the palace grounds.
40_Bishops_Palace_Cathedral_View_17
As optimally designed, this church would have a tall spire atop the central tower. Weather and fire have made all but a few lost over time.
Cathedral tower rising with the church in front of trimmed hedges and trees.
Another magnificent view of the cathedral from the formal gardens.

Similar to the city of Bath, Wells gets its name from the abundance of accessible groundwater and natural springs, many of which were harnessed or enhanced on the palace grounds.

Water feature with small waterfall flowing away and down into the gardens.
The small waterfall drops water down into a system of channels.
Channelized flow between manicured lawns.
Another formal water feature based on the natural upwellings.

The interior of the palace, including the chapel, is a progression and mixing of the various historical periods, spanning from the 13th century to modern day. In the essence of saving time, here’s a slide show of the interior shots.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Some interior shots of the Bishop’s Palace. Most of it is a museum and public space now, but the nearby Bishop’s House is still used as a residence and church office.

Both the church and the palace were immense and impressive, and it’s hard to portray the grandeur from these photos. With any impressive space, be it natural or human, it’s best to experience it in person. Hopefully that’s something that you can do one day, if it is in your means.

Ancient stone gatehouse with two turrets over a pointed arch entrance.
Farewell, Wells!

But our day was not over yet. We had some time to make an almost too-quick run to Cheddar, where we did buy and eat some “genuine” Cheddar Cheese, and make a brief drive up the gorge. Cheddar is a quaint village, and if we ever do return to the UK, I’d like to spend a little more time there.

Old stone storefront and wall.
The village has many quaint shops and picturesque views.

The waters that carved the gorge and associated caves is the Cheddar Yeo, and it emerges above ground in the village. It’s been a traditional source of power for centuries.

Shallow stream running toward the foreground alongside a stone wall.
The Cheddar Yeo, emerging in the village of Cheddar. Part of an “Excalibur” sword, for tourists has surely rusted in place by now.
stone walls topped with herbaceous plants lead into a village.
A pretty view of the village and the animal sculptures in the channelized water feature.

We did some window shopping and I bought some local fudge before we headed back to Bristol for the evening, having had another full and satisfying day out with friends.

India Intermission 2019

September 4, 2019

Hi everyone. A brief interruption to my UK trip updates, if I may…

The end of August found me and my boss in India, of all places, to provide some software and process training. The approval and planning happened with relatively short notice just as our workload was increasing, so I wasn’t even thinking about the blog in the run up to the trip.

But in any case, here’s a selection of photos and the eBird lists for the week+ I spent in Bengaluru!

[Note to Tumblr followers: I realize the WP photomosaics don’t always work right. I’ll try to reformat and repost for you as soon as I can!]

August 25:

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59240136
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59240289
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59240951
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59241652

August 26 (not a good photo day):
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59265577
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59273571

Large black bird sitting on a rock.
Another Large-billed Crow.

August 27:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59320598

August 28:
Non-birding day

August 29:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59344285

August 30:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59365698
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59367771

August 31:
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S59396553

The remainder of my time since coming home has been recovering from jet lag, getting over a head cold, and prepping and waiting out Hurricane Dorian.

I’ll get back to the UK recaps as soon as I can. Stay safe and see you later!

UK Day 10: Marazion and the Cornish Coast

Posted August 16, 2019

[Note: I realize it’s taking me some time to get through these posts. Please bear with me. It’s been a hectic summer]

May 18, 2019

Continuing our travels along the south coast of England, we drove back through Cornwall and to the ancient village of Marazion [map]. Off shore on the island of Saint Michael’s Mount is a castle and church that can be visited by foot during low tide. When the tide comes in, the causeway is submerged and the mount is only accessible by boat or amphibious vehicle.

Castle atop a wooded island off the coast, a beach in the foreground.
A view of Saint Michael’s Mount, looking at the harbor side.

The beach itself is quite flat, and when the tide is out one can wade quite far in places. A beach like this would be stacked with people, blankets, chairs, and fishing poles back home in Florida. Here, the beach was mainly empty, with people enjoying sea views from benches, restaurants, and shops from the village.

Rocks beyond a sandy beach at low tide.
You can see how wide the beach is, and the waters beyond were quite shallow.

The castle and chapel are impressive, even at a distance and I imagine the views commanded from this vantage-point are impressive. People do live and work on the island, and an order of monks is active at the chapel.

Close-up of a castle and chapel.
Part of the castle and the chapel atop Saint Michael’s Mount.

The main part of the island was gated and closed, which seems a shame as there are extensive gardens and a museum I would have liked to see. I hear the geology is unique and impressive as well. But it was a lovely diversion nonetheless, but we couldn’t stay long as the tide was about to come in, which threatened to strand us on the island (or at least have to hire a boat) as the causeway would be inundated.

Stone archway with a metal gate at the end of a low stone wall.
Access denied. Sorry to have to go, Saint Michael’s Mount…

Meanwhile, back on the beach…

Small metal sign bolted to a rock wall that says, "DO NOT FEED THE SEAGULLS THEY ARE DANGEROUS AND A HEALTH HAZARD"
Forewarned is forearmed?
Herring Gull standing on a rock.
Aw, this Herring Gull looks harmless!

We walked back to the beach and then into Marazion, and had lunch at a cafe that had some local fare, known as a pasty. Pasties are a pastry filled with meat and root vegetables. Traditionally, they were miners’ food. The thick crust around the edge serving as a handhold that wasn’t normally eaten since the miners’ hands might be contaminated by arsenic or other poisonous substances related to mining.

A pasty on a plate, waiting to be devoured!
Lovely pasty! (Thanks, Ruth, for the photo!)

From Marazion we worked our way west along the coast until we reached the ruins of the Botallack Mine, not far from the town of St. Just [map].

Three windmills in a filed beyond the hedgerows.
Windmills are perhaps the most visible sign of how the UK has moved away from coal generated power. While we were there, the country had just had of a couple of weeks were no coal at all was used!

This stretch of coast has to be one of the most dramatic and impressive sights we saw in our whole trip. The juxtaposition of the natural beauty of the rocky coast and dramatic cliffs with the many abandoned mining structures makes for a nearly unparalleled visual experience. Add in the roar of the waves on the rocks below and the wildflowers blooming, and you can imagine what an experience this was.

Stone ruins among rocky pastures.
The remains of the mining engine houses from the Botallack Mine.

As we approached the cliffs, a low fog was dispersing along the coast, which made the scene even more fantastical.

Rocky outcrop and cliffs over a misty ocean.
In ways, this landscape seemed a convergence of the sea cliffs we saw in Wales, the flowers and grass of Dartmoor, and the ruins of Minions. Very England.

Seabirds were circling below (Northern Fulmars, as it happens) as waves and foam churned on the rocks. We were only able to walk so far down along the cliffs due to trail closures for safety.

Stone ruins on a cliff, next to the ocean.
From these structures, miners actually tunneled under the seabed up to 1/2 a mile (800 meters) to get the valuable copper ore, even breaching the ocean, flooding the mines.
Churning waves and foam on rocks below, looking down an sea cliff.
It would be hard to find any safe harbor approaching this part of the north coast of Cornwall.

The scope and scale of the cliffs are hard to grasp from photos alone. They are hundreds of feet high, some with very narrow places to walk out on. The lingering fog helped confuse the distance cues a bit, but added to the drama.

Rough rocky coastline with mining ruins in the background.
Most of what we saw in the UK was spectacular and I’d trade none of it, but Cornwall definitely stole a bit of my heart.

We were very near both Penzance and Land’s End, but we stopped at neither. On a future visit I would like to spend more time in this part of England and take it all in, natural and human.

Rocky peninsula backdrop with cliff top in the foreground..
Darren says this is looking toward Sennan Cove, and Land’s End (beyond).

We spent some time marveling at the scenery before climbing back out, past the mining houses and the furnace ruins, looking up at smokestacks that seem to defy gravity and the elements.

More stone ruins and a tall stone smokestack on a cliff top, with two people (looking quite small) standing nearby.
Here’s more sense of scale: The two small vertical objects on the left are people standing on the cliff edge.

As we made our way back toward Bristol, we crossed into Plymouth by way of the Torpoint Ferry, rather than the bridge. It was fun.

A car ferry crossing the river.
Two boats run, one in each direction, and both were full. Photo thanks to Mrs. Lonely Birder.

Mrs. Lonely Birder and I got out of the car and went up on the deck and enjoyed some fresh air and a look at a few Royal Navy Ships. The ferries run on cables between both sides which is a safer, if more boring option for ferries ;-).

2 naval ships across the harbor.
Some Navy ships in the harbour. Photo thanks to Mrs. Lonely Birder.

We eventually got back to Bristol and walked to the local pub (The Knowle) so those that imbibe could have a pint and we unwound a bit. On the way there, we passed some trees that have been decorated like fairy homes!

small fairly door and window on the base of an urban tree by the sidewalk.
We didn’t knock to see if anyone was home. Photo thanks to Mrs. Lonely Birder.
Urban tree decorated with eyes, nose, and mouth.
This tree ended up looking a bit Entish, if you ask me. Photo thanks to Mrs. Lonely Birder.

We ended the day out at the pub, in which Mrs. Lonely Birder saw a familiar friend, reminding us of our previous epic trip to Churchill, Manitoba! I’ll leave you with a couple of parting shots.

Pub building, red brick and white trim. Sign says "The Knowle".
The local pub. We didn’t stay long, but it was sort of a checklist item of ours. Cheers, mate!
A drawing of bears framed on a wall, person pointing to Polar Bear with one hand, holding a pint of ale in the other.
It was pure cool to have a Polar Bear drawing by our table, linking our life-time trips together!

 

UK 2019 Day 8: Dartmoor

Posted July 16, 2019

May 16, 2019

After spending most of our first week around Bristol and Somerset, we started our second week by heading southwest to the county of Devon and spent the day around Dartmoor National Park [map].

Dartmoor is an upland area covered in low vegetation and bogs, with granite outcrops (called tors) and very few trees. Large areas are covered in English Bluebells, which even in the intermittent morning overcast were beautiful. Ruth told us that the flowers were past their peak, but the vivid purple was still quite a sight.

Dartmoor_01
English Bluebells cover large sections of the moorland.

There are few trees on the moor. The large, ancient forests that covered this land were slowly cleared over the centuries. Human activities, like grazing and farming changed the soil, making it acidic, further converting the land. A few trees do grow, and there are small sections of forest remaining, and there are restoration efforts under way in part of the park.

Scrubby tree among grasses and bluebells.
Scrubby trees like this are scattered around on the moor. In a couple of denser copses, I heard European Cuckoos!

Dartmoor has hundreds of tors. These prominent high points, some topped with granite knobs or spires, are important landmarks and many can be seen for miles away (by the way, you may have noticed I’ve been using miles and feet in these UK posts. As metric as Britain is, roads and distances are more often still in “imperial” units).

Distant rock outcrop upon a hill with scrub and grass in the foreground.
One of many tors in the landscape. There are so many that a few have redundant names!

Much like the Cheesewring (which we’ll see in a future post), these outcrops are completely natural. The shapes and apparent layers are due to persistent wind and water erosion over the course of many millennia.

Rocky outcrop with stones scattered below.
Some of the rocks in the foreground are simply granite that’s been exposed from just below the surface. Some of the larger ones resting on the grass have tumbled from the tor itself as the inexorable forces of erosion do their job.

For large parts of the moorland gorse and bogs dominate the landscape. Here is a patch of gorse without the iconic yellow flowers. This thick cover is ideal for protecting various bird species which nest or roost within. I saw Meadow Pipits, Eurasian Stonechats, and even a couple of skylarks.

Gorse covering a grassy knoll.
Gorse, near some bird nesting habitat signs. I didn’t walk too far in – this stuff is thick and has a lot of thorns!

Dartmoor is famous for it’s wild ponies. They can seem quite tame and will walk up to visitors and even touch you with their noses or flanks. But they are wild and should be treated with that level of respect. Many of the mares had foals.

A foal and its mother laying on grass
A baby pony sleeping while Mom rests nearby.

As we wandered around near one parking area, one pony walked up to my wife and did in fact touch its nose to her hand. The mares were relatively unconcerned with our proximity to their offspring.

Foal standing on short grass.
There were quite a few very young ponies around the moor. This one was still a little shaky on its feet.

We drove to a few more vantage points around the park, including looks at the prison (“HM Prison Dartmoor”) and more tors. From there we made our way past Buckfastleigh and to the ruins of Holy Trinity Church [map]. On the adjacent cemetery grounds is the mausoleum of Richard Cabell, on whose legend and death Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

Holy-Trinity-Church_03

Cabell was said to be an extremely angry and mean person, and would set his large dogs upon trespassers on his land. When he died, he was placed in a relatively unadorned mausoleum, beneath a heavy stone surrounded by iron bars, to “…prevent his coming up and haunting the neighbourhood,” according to an early 20th Century travel guide to Dartmoor.

Holy-Trinity-Church_02

The church itself is in ruins now, victim of vandals and arson in the 1990s. The elements have deteriorated the structure and the headstones more quickly than one might expect. This, combined with lichens and mosses growing on the stone makes the churchyard look even older still.

Holy-Trinity-Church_07

The church, cemetery, and Sir Richard’s mausoleum are popular tourist attractions, and we saw a couple of tour groups and photographers making their way around the grounds.

Holy-Trinity-Church_08

We left Master Cabell and his company of headstones and started for home, though we’d visit Dartmoor a couple more times during our stay in the UK. You’ll have to stay tuned for those upcoming posts!

A lichen covered and eroded stone angel affixed to a stone cross headstone.
Don’t blink. This Weeping Angel might be deteriorating, but you mustn’t let your guard down!

UK 2019 Day 6: Wales

One of the great things about being in and around Bristol is its proximity to Wales. A relatively easy trip over the Bristol Channel and there you are. We were quite looking forward to seeing some of Wales in part due to the TV show Doctor Who. Many of the “new” series (since 2005) has been filmed in Wales, and the show’s spin-off, Torchwood, was based in Cardiff.

Our first stop in Wales that day was Southerndown Beach. Doctor Who fans might know it as the beach by “Bad Wolf Bay”, where Rose and The Doctor part (at least in term of Rose as a regular companion) after “Doomsday” at the end of series 2. The beach is beautiful, surrounded by cliffs and long stretches of sand at low tide.

a broad rocky beach with sand toward the surf
Rocks and sand at low tide.
Southerndown-Beach_02
Dramatic cliffs of Southerndown Beach.
Southerndown-Beach_03
Rockfall from the cliffs covers much of the beach and makes for interesting tidal pools.

After hanging out at the beach for a bit, we headed over to Cardiff. [map], and the now iconic Roald Dahl Plass and the Wales Millenium Centre.

The Wales Millennium Centre with the Water Tower in the foreground.
The Wales Millennium Centre with its iconic Water Tower, beneath which the last remaining Torchwood Institute team had their headquarters. Due to construction, the water features were not operating.

The Millennium Centre is a beautiful structure, with materials chosen to reflect the history and heritage of the people of Wales. It’s steel clad dome pay homage to the steel industry, and other local materials like slate figure into the design. The words across the front of the dome are from Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh portion says, “Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen”, which means “Creating Truth Like Glass From Inspiration’s Furnace.” The English words are “In These Stones Horizons Sing”.

The front of the Wales Millennium Centre dome.
Poetic words on the dome at the Wales Millennium Centre. The steel has been treated with copper oxide to protect the metal from the seaside air.

Nearby to Roald Dahl Plass is the Senedd, or the Wales National Assembly. The political relationship among the countries in the United Kingdom isn’t always clear to Americans. Wales is a separate nation from England (as is Scotland and Northern Ireland), but for various reasons, Wales has traditionally enjoyed less self-rule than other parts of the UK. Without delving into politics of which I am a hopeless novice, I’ll just say that a degree of autonomy was attained in 1997 and the creation of a National Assembly for Wales (Cynulliad Cenedlaetho Cymru). While the modern Senedd building is where the Assembly meets and does its business, they acquired the nearby neo-Gothic Pierhead Building for use as an exhibit space and community center.

The Pierhead building in Cardiff
The Pierhead from Roald Dahl Plass.

Originally built for the Bute Docks Company, it was later used by the Cardiff Railway Company. The building is rather stunning in its setting, uncluttered by other architecture. The edifice is imposing, as befitting a 19th Century capitalist endeavor, of which both the docks and the railroads were.

The Pierhead Building in Cardiff.
In some ways, the Pierhead looks almost Romanesque revival, but perhaps my Art History courses are running a bit thin after 25 years.

It was a beautiful day to walk a bit around Mermaid Quay, the main shopping area at Cardiff Bay, looking out over the water.

A couple of sailboats out in Cardiff Bay.
A couple of sailboats out in Cardiff Bay.

As a bay-side city, the area was well represented by gulls, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls, in about equal measure.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
A Lesser Black-backed Gull looking for an easy chip (french fry) to scavenge…

While looking for a place to eat lunch, we walked away from the waterfront and I saw this sign, which did make me laugh. I’m no beer drinker, but how can you not love a brewery named Brains (even with the provocatively missing apostrophe)?

Brains brewery dragon logo on the side of a building.
Brains Dragon.

After lunch at a place called Eli Jenkins, we made our way out of Cardiff and north to the city of Caerphilly and the medieval castle there [map]. Caerphilly Castle is a magnificent ruin in the center of the city, surrounded by a moat and green spaces.

Medieval castle overlooking a lake
Caerphilly Castle on a glorious day.

The castle was built in the 13th Century, and was an impressive stronghold for a couple of hundred years. Its concentric design was influential in many subsequent castles throughout Britain.

Welsh flags flying over part of Caerphilly Castle
Welsh flags flying over the restored eastern gatehouse.
Leaning, ruined castle tower
Robbed of stones and a victim of subsidence, the “Leaning Tower” tilts at over ten degrees from vertical.
Wooden statue seemingly holding up a leaning castle tower
The 4th Marquess of Bute, holding up the tower.

The castle site is quite large, and the towers have many worn and narrow steps. Most of the rooms are barren, with missing wall sections and closed-off staircases. Some parts of the parapets have been restored and can be walked along.

Castle parapet
Northern parapet, with motion activated battle sounds!

The interior of the castle has been preserved in some state of ruin or left empty and unadorned, except for the Great Hall.

Large room with shields along the wall and vaulted wooden ceiling.
The Great Hall. Many of the simple tables and benches were not in place due to continuing renovation. But it is an impressive space.

The whole site is amazing and expansive. Here’s a little slide show with a few more photos.

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The moat and surrounding lakes are full of ducks and geese, some feral domestic stock and some wild or at least established in the wild. Many of the geese had goslings of various ages, too.

Adult goose with goslings in the grass
Canada Geese are and established introduced species breeding in the wild in the UK.
Greylag Goose swimming
Greylag Goose on one of the lakes.

There were also Common Swifts and Barn Swallows swooping around the castle grounds grabbing insects. There was one attendant Common Raven, suffering from some sort of dermatological problem or other health issue. It was missing much of its neck feathers.

Raven with missing neck feathers
This poor raven was watching over the castle.
Songbird on wall over the water.
A Grey Wagtail resting on the castle wall over the moat.

It was getting to late afternoon and so we made out way back out from the castle to head home. Somewhat like at Stonehenge, I had a feeling of deep appreciation of the skills and pressures of the people of the past. Caerphilly Castle was built in just 3 years – an incredible feat no matter what the motivation or means. It’s impressive but relatable, and such encounters can only be enriching and enlightening.

I’ll leave you with one parting shot, emblematic of the state of affairs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bollocks to Brexit
God save us all, not just the Queen.