TRIPS, OUTINGS AND EVENTS. Recent items of interest from the Wantage and Grove U3A please visit our Events Page for future activities - we are a busy group!
Visit to The Crocodile Farm - Wednesday 30 October 2019
20 of us visited the ‘Crocodiles of the World’ establishment near Brize Norton for a conducted tour of the various animals kept there. We were met by a keeper, Colin, a tall handsome Australian man (his words) who originally kept the animals in his backyard.
Colin gave us basic information about the various animals that we would see, starting with several types of cayman (small crocodiles). There are over 100 crocodiles at the premises. If you want to know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator – why not visit and find out for yourselves?
Our tour then became a series of feeding times, starting with 30+ Nile crocodiles, then the meerkats, followed by the giant tortoises and the otters, and finally ourselves in the small café.
Later we attended a talk by one of the keepers who was holding a one metre long, 4 year old crocodile. This was most interesting despite (or maybe because of) the animal attempting unsuccessfully to escape.
A worthwhile visit at £8 per head – contact George Goldsmith via the Contact Page to arrange another group visit!
Visit to the Royal Mint on Wednesday 25th September 2019
A group of 24 members visited the Royal Mint facility near Cardiff. On arrival we were somewhat surprised by the plain, dull nature of the various buildings. The conclusion was that security took priority over appearance. The Royal Mint has been in existence since 886 AD. There was much counterfeit money being produced in the 1600's and this was eventually eliminated by special production processes devised by Sir Isaac Newton, who was appointed as Master of the Mint in 1696.
Originally coins were made in a cottage industry style, using basic tools and dies (not Welshmen) and materials. The process was eventually consolidated into a building in the Tower of London. Later expansion led to a move to Tower Hill. This then moved to Llantrisant in 1968.
We were shown the tooling and methods used to manufacture the coins we take for granted today. The numerous metals, burnishing processes, stamping, designs, security tricks etc. were a revelation. The Mint makes coins for 63 different countries, produces about 5 billion coins a year and at a production rate faster than the eye can see. We saw machines spitting out coins in their thousands, had a chance to weigh them but sadly not to keep any.
We then went to the museum to see samples of their products through the ages. They also make medals, plaques, and bullion – the range was almost too great to take in. The final exhibit was what looked like a house-brick, made of gold. We were invited to lift it (physically, not steal) – almost impossible.
An excellent day, enjoyed by all.
Group visit to Ardley Energy Recovery Facility 28th August 2019
On 28th August, 15 members visited the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility, which processes the contents of Oxfordshire’s non-recyclable household rubbish; this would previously have gone to landfill. Against much local opposition the plant was commissioned and completed 2 years ago at a cost of £205 million.
The bin contents (unsorted) are deposited in a huge bunker capable of holding up to 7,000 tons of material. Two large ‘grab’ cranes lift up to 3 tons of the material at a time and deposit it in one of 2 large furnaces, to be burnt. The heat generated by the fire is used to drive a huge steam turbine which feeds electricity into the National Grid.
There is no pollution to the atmosphere, and all by-products are collected for reuse. Ferrous and non-ferrous metals are sent to be melted down, chemicals are treated and processed to provide materials for building blocks and aggregates, for use in highway construction. The chimney only discharges water vapour and permitted gases.
During construction of the site, a large number of dinosaur footprints were discovered. Most have been recorded and covered over, but one set is still visible and was an interesting aside to the main visit.
The U3A holiday to the Isle of Man, 23-27 July 2019
For the 26 travellers the only thing wrong with the first day was having to get up before 5 am to board the coach. It was a long journey of 7 hours, but our driver Mike got us to the ferry terminal at Heysham at the right time. The crossing was idyllic, calm seas, warm sun. We didn’t see any marine wildlife, but did see the huge wind farm, which was at the time producing no electricity as it was a completely still day, and many oil rigs.
Our hotel, The Empress, was comfortable and clean and the staff helpful and friendly. We were shown to our rooms and given dinner shortly after our arrival.
The next day, not too early, we took the Manx Electric Railway to Laxey, but with no time to explore as we immediately transferred to the Snaefell Mountain Railway. Both railways have been working since Victoria was a lass, noisy and uncomfortable, but Heritage is Fun! I personally enjoyed it. We had a good view of the Laxey Wheel, the largest working water wheel in the world; built in 1854 to service a copper mine, it is most impressive. We are told that the view from the top of Snaefell is also very impressive, but the summit, at just over 2000 feet, was enveloped in cloud which started to clear as we left half an hour later!
In the afternoon we had time to do our own thing. One or 2 of our number stayed behind after our descent to walk to the Wheel, with the rest of us returning to Douglas either on the coach or the tram. Several of us made it to the Manx Museum, but getting there was a challenge in itself, involving negotiating a multi-storey car park. But the museum was well worth the effort - interesting, informative, well laid out, and we all found it fascinating.
Later that day I learned about the 300 or so wallabies that range the hills, a result of a zoo escape. They have made their home here, and this year there are brightly painted wallaby replicas all around Douglas, for visitors to spot.
Wednesday was a lovely sunny day, not nearly as hot as on the mainland, thank goodness. Most of the driving today was on the course of the TT race, hair-raising stuff, racing round the island at 200 mph (not our coach!). Sadly people get killed every year; last year it was 2. To try to protect the riders all lampposts and stone walls are covered in padding, which looks bizarre. We set off for Peel, on the west coast, and spent a couple of hours visiting the castle or the excellent “House of Mannanan” museum, with free entry for those with National Trust and English Heritage cards, eating crab baps and/or ice creams, relaxing in the sun or going for a paddle in the crystal clear waters.
On the way to Ramsey we could see the Mountains of Mourne in the far distance and the fuchsias and crocosmos were in full bloom. Ramsey was another opportunity for more mooching round shops and soaking up the atmosphere and sun. Rather a dull town, it has beautiful, almost deserted beaches.
On our last day we visited Castletown, which unsurprisingly has an amazing castle, (free entry with NT and EH cards again). This is well laid out with creepy models showing how it would have been used in the past. From the battlements we could see for miles in all directions over the island and sea. The House of Keys, the former seat of the IOM parliament, was another informative visit. The modern parliament building is in Douglas. On our travels we also passed Tynwald, the hill where in older times and Viking tradition, the laws were proclaimed annually to the assembled people.
On to the Calf of Man, the little island off the south end of the main one. After lunch in a very crowded and noisy restaurant we sat watching the seals basking in the sun or flopping about in the water, or strolled along the beautiful cliffs, all very peaceful.
At Port Erin railway station, we saw the little railway which runs to Douglas, the only railway line on the island, with smart shiny steam engines. The beach and bay are stunningly beautiful, and several of us sat enjoying the view eating ice cream, the braver ones having a paddle in the cold sea, before we headed back to the hotel across the interior of the island.
As it was our last evening some people retired to their rooms after dinner, anticipating another early start the next morning. A group of us repaired to the bar where we listened and danced to the piano player, behaving like old ladies (and one gentleman!) letting their hair down at the end of a most enjoyable holiday!
On Saturday we were up and off by 7.30 am. It started raining soon after we left and although visibility on the crossing was poor, the sea was once again like a mill pond. After a good journey we arrived in Wantage at 6.30 pm. Many thanks to Vera for organising it all again, so very efficiently.
Hazel Townsend (and bits by Linda Thompson)
Group visit to BMW Mini Plant 15 July: 29 of us visited the BMW factory at Cowley, where they manufacture the Mini (and soon the electric Mini). We were divided into 2groups, each with our own guide. We were given a brief talk on the history of the Cowley Plant and issued with protective glasses and individual receivers, which enabled us to hear our guide clearly.
We were taken first to the ‘Body in White’ building, where the car bodies are assembled ready for painting. This was truly a mesmeric experience. There were 1,200, yes 1,200 robotic welding and drilling machines, overseen by only 150 staff. It was like a scene from “Transformers”, the robots lifting, turning and lowering into position the hundreds of metal components (manufactured in Swindon).
The electricity for lighting this very large building comes from the solar ‘farm’ on the roof, and coolant for the welding machines is rainwater stored in huge containers.
We did not visit the paint shop but were taken to the assembly building to see another out of this world process. The painted shells are lowered onto the continuous production line, where the hundreds of components from wheels to windscreens are fitted, until finally the finished car is fuelled and ready to go.
Some details: each person on the assembly line has a task that takes no more than 60 seconds, no 2 cars on the line are the same specification, and a completed car comes of the line every 67 seconds! George Goldsmith
Visit to Hidcote 4 July 2019
Nine members of the Gardeners’ Group went to the National Trust house and garden of Hidcote near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. Created by the talented horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston, the garden has intricately designed outdoor spaces so that you suddenly walk into secret gardens full to bursting with many different plants.
Best of all for the Wantage and Grove U3A was a lawnmower manufactured by Dennis Brothers of Guildford, held in pride of place, which was brought to Hidcote in 1958 and especially designed for them by our own Ron Stovold. You too can visit and admire any day until 27 October.
Visit to the Bodleian Library 20 June
The guided tour to the Bodleian Library was very interesting and surprising. I was expecting just to see the library but the tour showed us more. We started in a large hall which looked a bit like a church, where the governors of the universities used to meet. Then we were shown the room which Parliament used when it left London in 1666 because of the Great Fire, and attached to that was a Court Room for students of the universities. This was all on the ground floor.
Then it was up the 68 steps to the Library itself. This was not part of the original building but was added later. We had to wear hearing equipment as you can only whisper up there. You cannot go into the whole of the Library, but the part we were in was stacked from floor to ceiling with very old books, some of which were written on parchment.
It was explained that the Library is entitled to a copy of nearly all of the books, magazines and leaflets that are published in the UK (could be 1000 a week!). They are not kept there, but are stored at a site in Swindon and are brought back to Oxford on request. These books cannot leave the library and must be read there.
It was well worth the visit and if you have a chance, go and see it.
Trip to Bletchley Park 20 May 2019
On a pleasant sunny day 26 of us set out for Bletchley Park. On my return visit I was able to see (most of) the bits I’d missed in September. Huts 3 and 6 – the restored German army and airforce codebreaking huts, what a dark, noisy and smoky environment that must have been! The newly refurbished Teleprinter Building - an exhibition and short film explaining Bletchley Park’s secret D-Day role. Hut 12 – sketches, some comedic, some mysterious, from the Bletchley Park Archives. Finally, the Mansion - an exhibition showing the life and work of Bill Tutte, only 24 when he arrived at Bletchley, an elite Codebreaker, and also an exhibition showing how the (9000!) personnel entertained themselves with personal recorded accounts to listen to.
For some it was their first visit, so we all had different experiences on the day. However, the consensus on the way home was that it was well worth the trip, tiring, too much to see, but inspiring and very grateful to those who served there.
Monday Walking Group: On 14th May 14 people set out on a hot sunny Spring day. We started at Great Coxwell Tithe Barn, built in the 13th century. It is very impressive and well maintained by the National Trust. We turned away from the village, through two farms and across a field. We stopped for a short rest before the long climb up to Badbury Camp. This was used in the Iron Age. White Horse Hill and Faringdon Folly can be seen clearly from there. The famous bluebells were just about over but a few folk took time to explore the woods. Highlight of the afternoon...the ice cream van was in the car park! I think we all had one each. We made our way down the half mile back to the Barn for a photo opportunity and a bit of an explore before going home. A lovely afternoon. Hazel Townesend
Gardeners visit to Batsford Arboretum and Sezincote Gardens May 2019
May 2nd started bright and sunny when members of the Gardeners Group set off for Batsford Arboretum. Over coffee, the essential first stop, we found that it was Pat’s birthday, we didn’t sing but we wished her a happy day. The 5 of us explored the beautiful grounds; we wandered up the driveway to the pretty church, we saw the Cotswold-stone house where the Mitford sisters lived for a while. We ambled along the paths to the Thatched Cottage and the Japanese Rest House. All the way we admired the many flowers and trees coming into their spring time beauty; my favourite, a copper beech all pink before turning copper. On the way down beside the pretty stream we saw the famous Handkerchief Tree said to be the biggest and most beautiful in the country. Unfortunately no one had thought to bring a camera.
After a lunch and a mooch round the plant centre, Pat bought herself a birthday present, it started raining. We went across to Sezincote Gardens. All the buildings there have an Indian flavour, the main house which we didn’t have time to go into, is crowned with an onion shaped dome. While standing by a rill, admiring the elephants, the house and orangery we met the Irish head gardener who, when pressed, said he had spent time working at Buckingham Palace. We explored the wildflower meadow, just coming into flower, and followed a stream to the Island Pool. It rained lightly on and off but didn’t spoil our enjoyment. We had to go, Pat had a party to go to and we all had to vote!
Tuesday 30 April, See The Music Presentation. David and Eleanor Clough treated us to another Audio Visual compilation, which started with an Opera North orchestra flash mob surprising and delighting shoppers in a Leeds shopping mall with Ravel’s “Bolero”. We were then transported to the Lake District for beautiful scenes with appropriate music, and thence to Tuscany, following David and Eleanor’s walk from village to village. Extracts from Disney’s “Fantasia” (both versions) included my favourite Mickey Mouse sequence, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Our travels then took us to the Thousand Islands area of Canada, with a look at Niagara Falls, and finally back to Europe to view several chateaux along the Loire. A welcome cup of tea and a biscuit provided by Eleanor rounded off the afternoon. Many thanks to both of you for all the time and effort you put into compiling these presentations. Linda Thompson
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