Past Trips 2018
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Northumberland Holiday - October 2018
I’m hoping that I speak for us all when I say we enjoyed our visit to Northumberland. Despite it being a long way away, our coach was comfortable and we had enough stops en route to enliven the journey. Each day was gently filled with visits to very different places and there was something for everyone.
Our first day and we were thankful to have good weather for our visit to Lindisfarne and the castle that some of us toiled up to and around. Recently re-opened, but left almost unfurnished to reveal the work of Edwin Lutyens. The only decoration was by a modern artist who had been commissioned by the Arts Council to build structures supporting lengths of cloth that had been dyed using local plants.
From there we went to Alnwick Castle where we enjoyed an expert’s commentary and tour, but were unable to take photographs of the luxurious State Rooms. The gardens include a section devoted to poisonous plants, and the famous water cascade.
Alnwick Castle has an extraordinary and enormous tree house where some of us had a snack lunch.
We started our second day with a visit to Cragside, the first house in the country to have electricity, installed by its owner William Armstrong. The house is full of innovative and impressive features, like a steam room, a lift to save the servant’s carrying food up the stairs and using water power for the electric lighting. The house is surrounded by a large estate with a carriage ride for those who can walk about 6 miles, and in beautiful Northumbrian hill country, covered in heather.
From one innovative house to another when we went to the bang up to date refurbishment of Gateshead Quays with the Sage Centre – 3 theatres under one roof and home to the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra, and the ‘winking bridge’ – a curved millennium bridge that lifts to allow passing shipping.
Our third day was spent at Durham, with a guided tour of the Norman cathedral, the best example of its kind in
the country and home to the tomb of St Cuthbert. Again, no photographs were allowed of the interior.
We all enjoyed our day in Durham, outside the cathedral and on our river trip.
On our way back to the hotel we detoured to get a closer view of The Angel of the North, which was erected to commemorate the miners who worked in the area, and to embrace the future. That little figure at the base gives an idea of its size.
Our last day was spent travelling back to Wells, stopping at Coventry to visit the old and new cathedrals. The two are side by side, a few arches and the tower and spire being the only building left after fire bombs had done their worst in November 1940.
We were enthralled by the new cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence who commissioned large artworks including the baptistry window stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, a bronze sculpture of St Michael by Jacob Epstein, and the tapestry behind the main altar by Graham Sutherland. Later Spence wrote a book entitled ‘Phoenix at Coventry’ on his experience as architect of the cathedral that brought him worldwide fame.
I hope our next holiday to the English Marches will have similar sunshine – it makes our countryside so beautiful.
Trip to the City of Winchester - September 2018
Arriving at Winchester we disembarked from the coach at the famous bronze statue of King Alfred the Great (c849-899). To quote the Visitor Guide 2018, he 'was a scholar, soldier, statesman, King Alfred rebuilt Winchester after the Dark Ages making it his capital'. From here members dispersed to meet friends, researched the history of the area or just strolled around the City and surrounding area.
Members visited many of the famous landmarks including the fully restored and working Winchester City Mill, which has stood on the same site for over 100 years.
The Great Hall, a 13th Century Medieval aisled Hall which was once part of Winchester Castle was used for a variety of activities.
One of the many uses the Great Hall was put to over the years was in November 1603 when the Hall was used as a courtroom to house the Court of King's Bench. Here Sir Walter Raleigh was charged with treason and sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered. Raleigh appealed to King James who issued a pardon with the proviso that he be kept in prison in the Tower of London. In October 1618 Sir Walter Raleigh was executed in London. To this day the Judge's seat can be seen in the Great Hall.
Today the Great Hall houses 'King Arthur's Round Table' part of the legends and facts associated with this building and the premises are used for social occasions and weddings.
At 3.00pm two thirds of our group met at the West Door of Winchester Cathedral to take advantage of the optional guided tour. The history of this magnificent Cathedral, a mixture of Saxon and Norman architecture, was brought to life by our extremely knowledgeable Guide who told us about the building, its 'occupants', treasures and legends.
learnt that there are eighteen miles of timber in the roof. That between 1906 and 1911 William Walker lead a team of divers to dig out the rotten foundations of the East End of Winchester Cathedral and underpin the building with concrete, concrete blocks and bricks.
The familiar belief that if it rains on the 15th July it will rain for 40 days and nights is based on the Cathedral's patron saint, St Swithun. He was born around 800 and for the last ten years of his life was Bishop of Winchester. St. Swithun died in 863 and was buried in front of the West Door of Saxon Old Minister. Over the years his remains were moved several times until their final resting place in the new Cathedral. It is alleged that as his remains were buried for the last time inside the Cathedral it rained for forty days and nights, supposedly showing St. Swithun's wrath as he had stated, before his death, that his remains should remain outside of the building.
We had the pleasure of viewing, in the Epiphany Chapel, the magnificent stained glass windows designed by the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones and made in the workshops of William Morris in 1910.
The above is just a taste of the points of interest given to us by our Guide as we wandered through this beautiful building.
Following a busy day we all met again at King Alfred's statue to board the coach for our homeward journey.
Trip to Bletchley Park - July 2018
The morning of our journey to Bletchley Park started rather cloudy however, by the time we arrived at our destination, after a short comfort stop and a lovely smooth ride, the sun had come out and we were greeted with a view of members of the public lounging around the lake in the good old-fashioned striped deckchairs - a very British scene.
Clutching Bletchley Park maps members rapidly dispersed to lunch, booked a guided tour or just wandered at leisure. Incidentally, the Hut housing the restaurant was laid out as it would have been during the war years and even the coffee was served in enamel mugs. During the war approximately one thousand meals were served in a day and thirty thousand meals in a week.
First impressions were of a lovely old Victorian Mansion set in large grounds surrounded, but not overpowered, with numerous huts, some of which still had parts of the blast wall surrounding them. We learnt from the Guide that in 1938 members of the Government Code and Cypher school had agreed that it would unwise to remain in London as war was on the horizon, and premises in the country would be more acceptable. Bletchley Park came on the market at the same time; as our Guide mentioned "the ideal location situated between Oxford and Cambridge Universities both having some of the top maths lecturers and students in the Country" and was subsequently purchased by Commander Denniston and given to M16 in 1939. We were able to see a recreation of Commander Denniston's Office and Library as they were in World War 2.
Initially two hundred staff members worked at the premises but by the end of World War 2 some ten thousand staff, mainly women, were bussed into work, the buses journeying some thirty-two thousand miles per week to transport staff to work. Blocks of codebreaking huts housed different artefacts and information ranging from solving the Engima problem ie understanding how the German code machine worked, wartime vehicles and transporting top secret information, to 'High Spirits in low Times' which referred to off duty entertainment.
The most famous names mentioned were Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman who, with their colleagues were working on decoding messages from the Enigma machine, and Bill Tutte who worked on the Lorenzo system which was more advanced and without even seeing the machine Mr Tutte "with just a couple of captured messages" worked out how the Lorenzo cipher machine worked. It is also necessary to mention Mr Tommy Flowers who worked for the GPO research establishment at Dollis Hill and played a major part in the development of the Lorenzo decrypting machine. All these men played such a major part in the winning of the war.
At the beginning it took over six weeks to decrypt a message, which was too long, so machines were developed, including Colossus "which cut the decrypt time down to about six hours". We were fortunate in that the adjacent Computer Museum was open to the public and we were able to see the famous Colossus, Bomb machines and early computers.
During the war years approximately two to three thousand messages came in each day and on Normandy Day eighteen thousand messages were dealt with.
For many years after the end of the war all personnel were strictly forbidden to disclose any information about the activities at Bletchley and for this reason their enormous contribution to the war effort was largely unrecognised.
For those of us interested in history and computers this was a truly fascinating day and if you are unable to visit Bletchley Park then try and find a book relating to the subject or at least look up the history of the men mentioned for they had formidable brain power.
Trip to RHS Garden Rosemoor - June 2018
Most of us are familiar with the saying 'The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry' which originated from Robert Burns poem 'The Mouse', written in 1785 allegedly after Burns had accidentally destroyed a mouse's nest whilst ploughing a field.
The above saying rather sums up our journey to and from Rosemoor for on one of those rare occasions we had problems with the transport causing delays in both directions. However, our understanding members took the problems in their stride and were rewarded with a lovely sunny day spent in truly beautiful surroundings.
On arrival at Rosemoor we were greeted by a member of staff who handed out 'Rosemoor Garden Map and Summer Trail' leaflets which also listed details of specific roses; this was very useful as it enabled members, as they wandered through the colourful, perfumed gardens, to make a note of roses they found particularly attractive. Free guided tours were also available and in the Plant Centre experts were available to give members of the public advice when choosing their roses.
The Roger Pilkington Cob Building, available for weddings, was very attractive. The cob was made from sub soil (obtained during the building of the Learning Centre), this was mixed with water and barley straw and built up from concrete block foundations faced with local stone and lime mortar. The roof was made from locally milled larch and the floor from limecrete which is, apparently a more sustainable material than concrete.
The Craft Fair had many attractive items for sale from honey and jams to cushions and mirrors - best not to linger too long or your wallets will be empty.
A memorable day and an RHS garden which is a 'must visit' for any keen gardener.
Concorde Museum Trip/M Shed - May 2018
On 30th May we set off for Bristol Aviation at Filton, Bristol. This museum has been set up in a vast original hangar, on the Bristol Aeroplane Company runway that had originally been extended for the luxurious Brabazon trans-Atlantic plane that was launched in 1949 and retired in 1953. The concept had been to compete with glamorous trans-Atlantic liners, but it was a commercial failure, being too big for many airports and only carrying 100 passengers, despite its size.
The Brabazon was only one of many aircraft that had been built here.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company, founded in 1910 and originally the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was both one of the first and one of the most important British aviation companies, designing and manufacturing both airframes and aircraft engines from before WW1 onwards. The site is now shared by BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce engineering, MBDA missile systems and GKN Aerospace.
Other post-war projects included Bristol Cars, which used pre-war BMW designs as the basis for the Bristol 400.
After our interesting guided tour we spent the afternoon at Bristol Harbour Wapping Wharf at the M-Shed, originally the Bristol Industrial Museum. The M Shed opened in June 2011, with exhibits exploring life and history of Bristol. Nearby are SS Great Britain and the Matthew, and all the bustle of a busy harbour.
A recent interesting development behind the M Shed has been Cargo, a collection of shipping containers now used as food and retail outlets.
There was plenty for us to see and do.
Trip to Blenheim Palace - March 2018
After an anxious weekend as the 'mini Beast from the East' swept across the area and left a trail of snow it was a relief to wake up on the Wednesday morning, the day of our trip, to a much milder day and clear roads; 'all systems go'.
Standing in beautiful landscaped grounds, designed by 'Capability' Brown, Blenheim Palace, the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, dominates the surrounding countryside and commands admiration.
The size of the Palace, surrounding grounds, various exhibitions and guided tours made it obvious that members would be best served by being free to choose their own activities for the day, so having received their entrance ticket and information leaflet, they set off to explore the venue at their own pace. Some members chose to spend the whole day in the Palace, others chose to explore the grounds and yet others combined both activities.
To describe the whole experience would require pages of A4 paper but a few highlights are worth mentioning.
The Great Courtyard leading to the steps up to the entrance of the Great Hall with its beautifully painted ceiling by James Thornhill. This room in turn led to the other State Rooms, all equally splendid. The long library, the second longest room in England, with the spectacular Willis organ built in 1892. Incidentally this was one of the rooms used for the filming of The Young Victoria and several costumes used by the cast were on display. At an additional cost the private apartments and bedrooms were also available to view.
The Churchill exhibition was fascinating with an array of costumes and memorabilia. His books and records were also available in digital form making it simple to read the great man's words.
Walking around the grounds was an equally impressive experience. Parkland with ancient oak trees, a beautiful lake, the cascades, formal and informal gardens, a butterfly house, the list is endless and, as you would expect, the grounds are very well maintained.
At the end of the day I think we all came away having enjoyed our visit and, perhaps, wishing that another couple of days exploring this venue would not go amiss.