Thursday, 28 February 2013

Coffee Drinking on Market Day.

It was market day again today, with another week gone in a flash.  It's been so cold, that I've hardly left the comfort of my flat, and thus, have had nothing much to write in the blog.  It was warmer today, as the bitter cold wind from Siberia has lessened, and I didn't have to wear my unloved hat.   I wandered through the market place, on my way to the "Black Swan Hotel" for the usual Thursday morning meet up with friends over a coffee.  Only three of us were there, as two others were unwell, one is off enjoying herself  on safari in South Africa, and another was child minding.   We drank coffee and had a short chin wag, and then left the pub early, as it was not the same with just the few of us.  

To the left you can see my coffee, and a view from the back bar of the pub, looking forwards towards the front bar.  Originally I did not like the maroon coloured walls of the bar, but now, with the flowers on the tables and a cosy wood fire burning, my opinion has changed.  Tucked up in a corner, it is mighty warm on a cold winter's day.   

The usual market traders were in town selling their fruit and vegetables, and shouting "come and buy the best in town," to the shoppers as they past by.   Each bowl of veg or fruit costs a £1 at the beginning of the day, but by early afternoon real bargains can be had, when the price falls by half.   A charter for a market to be held in Devizes was granted in the 12th century.

This afternoon at 2pm I went to the cinema with Celia and watched "Hitchcock."   I was not overly enthused, as it was not quite what I expected.  More news on Saturday.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Walking Around the Caen Hill Flight.

Even though a bitter wind was blowing, and I would, once again have to wear my blue Peruvian hat with the bobbles, I took a long walk this afternoon around the famous flight of locks.  I've written here so often about this place, which for me is always a thrilling sight.  The plaque left, gives the public information about the construction of the locks and pounds, their measurements, and also details about how a lock works.  I like to imagine the canal's engineer John Rennie, surveying the site in the 1790s, before building started.  He had not intended the flight to climb up the hill, but the business men of Devizes realised how useful it would be for trade, for the canal to pass through the town.

Building this flight of 29 locks would be a mega scale engineering project now in 2013, but poor Mr Rennie had to construct it using  labourers who worked without the help of modern cranes and diggers.  This flight was dug by hand, by men with picks and shovels , wheelbarrows, horses and carts.   I would love to have seen it being constructed, and what an effort for the navvies, who were, I gather,  a very lawless bunch!

This photo was taken at lock 23, with the flight going up the hill in the background.  A brick works was built to the right, where the bricks for the locks were produced.  A small railway track ran up the towpath, so that horse drawn carts could pull brick laden wagons up the hill for the construction of each lock.   Each canal bridge  from the bottom of the flight to the top has two tunnels, one for the canal to pass under, and the other to allow the wagons to supply bricks to the locks as they became constructed.  It was lucky that a plentiful seam of brick clay was readily available at that particular site.  The remains of the flooded clay pits can still be seen.

This is lock 50, the very first lock at the top of the flight, were the Bath Road travels over the canal, and enters Devizes.  This stretch of canal leads to the Wharf, just out of sight in the middle of the photo.  A notice on the balance beam warns boaters to stay forward of the gates, for fear of smashing the back of the boat onto the cill.  Note the spelling of the word "cill," used mostly for wooden beams, and a variant of "sill" used in the British building industry.  I live about 5 minutes from this place, so here I started looking forward to a welcome cup of tea when I   arrived home after my 1.75 hour walk.    Nice walk but really cold!

Friday, 22 February 2013

A Shortage of News caused by the Cold Weather!

I ventured out this morning for a walk.  I was leading the walk, so there was no escape, and I needed the help of friends to coax me out of my warm flat to confront the freezing cold wind that's blowing in from Siberia.  It is really cold, and I had to wear my hat and gloves and several layers of clothing to keep the bitter wind out of my bones.   We caught the 10am  49 Trans Wilts Express bus to "The Crown" at Bishops Cannings, and then walked back to Devizes along the hill top, down to the towpath at Laywood Bridge, and then on towards Devizes Wharf.    The view above shows the hills of Salisbury Plain, along which we have walked on many occasions.  The track was frozen today, with icy puddles at the bottom of the slope.  I walked this route a month ago, when I was up to my ankles in mud and slush. 

We joined the towpath at Laywood Bridge, where a nearby tree has  become the nesting place of a flock of noisy crows, who squawked our arrival.  We eventually reached Devizes Marina, with its moored boats, some with residential status.   The little blue boat above is a day boat, one which can be hired for day trips on the canal. In the summer it can be seen covered in people attempting a trip on the water, whilst drinking beer and the like.   In the background is "The Hourglass," a canalside restraurant and bar.  When the weather is nice, (not often) it is nice to sip ones beer on the large patio and watch the boats go by, (not often)

"The Iron Lady" above is dated 1899, and is a dutch barge, used as a residential home on the water.  She has a plush interior, and has been on the canal for many years, with a variety of owners.   With so much ironwork to maintain, she must cost a penny or two to keep in good order.  The had lunch and a drink in "The Crown," which today felt cold and not very cosy.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Trip Boat Maintenance on a Cold Sunday Morning.

The Kennet & Avon Canal  trip boat "Kenavon Venture" based at Devizes Wharf is undergoing her annual mechanical check, engine inspection and general tidy up.  She is manned by volunteers, who must all undergo training in health and safety measures.  The photo right, shows her out and about in lock 48 last summer, taking parties of children and their families on 1.5 hours cruises up and down the canal.  The boat can be chartered, and in early May a friend of mine is holding her "hen night" on the boat, a few days before she gets married.  There will be a special cruise this year to celebrate "Mother's Day," and another evening "Jazz Cruise," complete with a fish and chip supper.  These trips are great fun and very popular with foreign visitors to the town, who get the chance to see the canal from another angle.

This morning the side hatch has been removed, to enable a split in the metal to be welded.  We suspect that in the night, the local Devizes "Yoofs" jump on the hatch, weaken the metal and cause the damage.  The boat is moored here at Devizes Wharf, which in the 18th and 19th centuries was a busy place, engaged in the loading and unloading of the barges, as they carried goods between Bristol, Bath, Reading and London.  A large wharf warehouse is now the "Wharf Theatre," and the canal museum, information centre, shop and cafe are housed in the old maintenance yards.  I sat on the boat for an hour or so this morning with a friend, as we waited for the repaired hatch to be refitted.

The boat's interior is a bit of a mess at the moment, as the carpet and floor were recently lifted to enable a full inspection of the hull.  The galley at the end has had some new shelves built to accommodate the assortment of snacks for sale on the trips.  The boat has a licence, and sells beer and wine to the passengers.  The tables are usually covered with pretty gingham tablecloths,  and little vases of flowers add charm to the place.   All very nice!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Winter Maintenance on the Devizes "Caen Hill Flight" of Locks

The "Caen Hill Flight" of locks is world famous as one of the "Wonders of the Waterways."  With 29 locks, of which 16 are consecutive, it is the second longest flight of locks in the UK, and raises the canal 237ft in two miles.  YouTube shows several videos of journeys up and down these locks, and especially interesting are the time lapse videos, which show in two or three minutes, a journey that normally takes up to four hours.   I needed a good walk on Tuesday morning, as the weather here has been so terrible for days. I´d been shut in for a couple of days, and was fast developing "Cabin Fever,"  and lazy leg syndrome.  

The flight was busy with men working on several of the 16 consecutive locks, strengthening the gates with metal plates, preparing for the erection of new gates, and dredging and draining the large pounds on each side of each lock.  

The large side pounds act as reservoirs, collecting water to fill each lock as a boat travels downwards.  Since the opening of the canal in 1810, obtaining a good supply of water for the locks has always been a problem.  The summit level at Crofton is supplied with water from a pumping station, and with rivers feeding into the canal at various points, the water level has been maintained as it gradually flows downhill towards Reading in the east, and to Bath in the west.

At lock 30, the pound (right) has been drained of water, with all the fish and eels having been collected for safe keeping, until they can be returned to the water when the pound is refilled.  On a previous occasion I watched a pound being drained, and was very surprised at the number and size of the fish removed, and also with the numbers of eels and cray fish.   Some of the fish grow to a very large size, and on the very day I passed a fisherman struggling to land a huge pike, I had left my camera at home!  I witnessed the catch, and he could safely say that he caught a very big one that day!

Two men repairing the lock gates at lock 47.  Metal straps were being added to strengthen the wooden gates, with work on renovations to the paddle gearing.

The bridges on the flight have two arches, one for the canal and the other for the old rail track that allowed horse drawn wagons filled with bricks to come easily up the flight.  A convenient bed of clay lay at the bottom of the hill, and this was utilized for the making of thousands of bricks needed to build each lock.  To the left is the old rail track arch, and on the metal brick protector in the centre, you can see the grooves, that were created by the constant rubbing of the ropes as the horses pulled the old barges up the hill.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

"Pan Cake Day" in the Market Place.

The Market Place parking spaces were closed this morning for the annual "Shrove Tuesday Pan Cake Day" races in Devizes town centre.   Anyone can race, so teams from local shops and businesses, children and adults had a good deal of fun running up and down the Market Place, whilst tossing pancakes.  Prize money goes to charity from the winning team.  It was a good idea to run fast, as it is very cold here, and standing about in a cold northerly wind, was not my idea of fun.

Each team member had to toss the pancake twice while running up to another member of the team, who repeated the performance on the way back to the finish line.  Above you can see a quick handover, as members of a team of solicitors swapped their pan and pancake.   The pancakes were kindly produced by my favourite pub the, "Black Swan Hotel."

Above a pancake is tossed into mid air.  Note the stance of the thrower, tossing a pancake is no mean task and it is very easy to miss the pan!  I didn't quite capture the action in full, as it all happens too quickly, unless of course, the pancake fails to land in the pan and splats onto the road surface instead.  Several pancakes were injured in the  taking of these photos.  

The Mayor of Devizes in chain of office, stands left of centre, at the race start.

"Shove Tuesday," known as Pancake Tuesday or Pancake Day, is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.   Its date is determined by Easter, and changes annually.   The word "Shove" is the past tense for the English verb, "shrive,"   meaning to confess.  Many celebrations are associated with the religious obligations of the penitential  season of Lent, which begins on "Ash Wednesday.   "Mardi gras" is the French term for "Fat Tuesday,"  referring to the practice of eating rich, fatty food before the ritual of fasting of  the Lenten season.   I find it difficult to fast at anytime of the year!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Old Chippenham to Calne Railwayline.

On Friday, thankfully without rain, we took a 4.5 walk from Studley Crossroads, down a quiet road, to join the old railway line that ran from Calne to Chippenham.   Unfortunately, it was closed in September 1965, a victim of the "Beeching cuts."  The six mile stretch of single track line ran along the valley of the River Marden, and was operated by the Great Western Railway Company, and opened for passengers in November 1863.  Originally it had no stations, but in 1863 one was opened at "Black Dog Halt" for Lord Lansdowne, the local landowner who lived at Bowood House, and in 1905 another was built at "Stanley Bridge."    It is a easy, comfortable flat walk, which means it's possible to chat away to friends without particularly having to "watch your step."   To the right can be seen "Fossil Tree," one of the signposts marking the "National Cycle Route," this one being named the Chippenham/Calne Railway Path.  These signs were erected in the year 2000 to mark the millennium, and to encourage the good folk of England to "get on yer bike" and exercise more.  They've had no affect on my behaviour whatsoever,  as I don't like cycling uphill, and I much prefer to walk anyway.   "Fossil Tree" shows icons of geological interest, from trilobites, shells and fish skeletons and what looks like a steering wheel.  This sign shows Chippenham in one direction and the Avebury Stone Circle in the other.

The 1000 Millennium cast iron mileposts were funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland to mark the creation of the National Cycle Network, and can be found throughout UK cycle routes.  There are four different types of post, "Fossil Tree," "The Cockerel," "Tracks" and "Rowe Type" named after the designer.   Each designer came from one of the four countries that make up the UK.

Walking from the bus stop at Studley to a distant old railway line.

Passenger numbers decline in the late 1950/early 1960s, when the RAF stations at Yatesbury and Compton Basset closed.  Freight services were down to one each weekday, and were withdrawn in November 1964, and the Sunday passenger service was also withdrawn.  The line eventually closed completely on 2nd November 1964.   A section of track opened as the "Marden Nature Trail" in 1972, and most of the 6 mile route between Chippenham and Calne is now used  by walkers and cyclists.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Birthday Beer in the "Bear Hotel."

It's my birthday today, and by way of celebration, I started the day in two pubs, firstly the "Black Swan" for a cider, and then crossed over the road to the "Bear Hotel" for yet another.  It's not everyday you are 21 again!  To the right is my glass of dark amber coloured  "Thatcher's Autumn Gold" cider, my latest tipple, and very nice it is too.  The other drinks belong to my friends who had popped in for lunch.   The "Bear" Hotel is the smartest hotel in town, and an old coaching inn, first licenced to sell spirits and beer in 1559.  It has an interesting history, and was once the home of Sir Thomas Lawrence, a child prodigy and portrait painter, who later became a member of the Royal Academy of Art.  The hotel has a great atmosphere, and is a popular place for morning coffee, excellent lunches and evening dinner parties.   It is always very busy and it's often difficult to find a table unless pre-booked.  Traditional English afternoon tea can be ordered here, with two big scones, butter and strawberry jam, and all topped with lashings of clotted cream.  Very tasty but absolutely  disasterous for my waistline!

The lounge bar above has a spiral staircase leading to the guest rooms.  Below can be seen the same bar, but looking down towards the "Bear Grill," a separate dining area, rather like a little bistro.  Both these bars have warm open log fires.   

 The hotel was a popular stopping place for overnight stays and a place to change horses notably in the 18th and 19th century, when Bath became a popular place to take the waters.  Among the more notable guests who stayed here were, George lll and Queen Charlotte who stayed in 1817, en route for Longleat, the Archduke and Duchess of Austria, and in 1893 Edward Vll, then Prince of Wales, together with Edward of Saxe-Coburg and Prince Arthur of Connaught.   I like to imagine Jane Austen the writer, walking through the same main entrance that we all use today.   She stayed here overnight on many occasions, when travelling from Kent to Bath.   The ballroom with its magnificent chandeliers, was refurbished recently and is used as a wedding venue.

Monday, 4 February 2013

The Once a Month "Really Busy Tuesday."

It's snowdrop time again.  We saw these on our walk last Friday, and because they were not quiet open, we decided to repeat the walk again soon, and view them in their full display of  contrasting fagility and hardiness .   **The date at the top of this blog is a day out!

Today really is "Really Busy Tuesday," the only day of the month when three activities fall in one day.  This morning at 10am our Geology group meets,  and the occasion will be sad, as the group's leader died last week after many months of illness.  He was a knowledgeable man, with a lifelong interest in geography and the geology of our local area.  We  hope to continue the group with a coordinator producing a programme of topics, with members presenting  their own findings and interests in each subject to the group.     Ray will be much missed by us all.

This afternoon the writing group meets, and for which I have produced nothing!  I sometimes wonder just how many words I write in a day, yet alone a month, so to save myself some work, I have printed off one of my more interesting blogs, and will read that to the group.

This evening I should be singing "Cherubini and Mozart" to my heart's content,  but at the moment I'm not sure that I will make it.  We are still in the "learning the music" stage, which is basically 1.5 hours of note bashing.  It's somewhat tedious but necessary. 

This lovely view is from "One Tree Hill" in Potterne, looking out towards Etchilhampton Hill and the Vale of Pewsey.  As the patchy sunlight moved across the landscape, it lit up each field in turn, and produced a variety of drifting, verdant greens, and all quite magical.

To the left of the photo, near the hilltop is the "Devizes Millenium White Horse,"  etched into the chalk hillside to commemorate the year 2000.  The day was dank, but we were heading towards the "White Bear" in Devizes, so our spirits remained high in anticipation of a good lunch,  and for me, a small glass of cider!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

From Potterne, via Sleight, then Back to the "White Bear" for Lunch.

On Friday morning we caught the early bus to the "Porch House," a splendid 15th century building in Potterne, a village four miles from Devizes.   The timber framed house was built around 1480, and has a roof of stone and slate.  The single storied central great hall is flanked by a gabled, two storied cross wing, with a two storied porch.  The house is in private hands, and now stands beside the busy main road from Devizes to Salisbury.   We turned left into Coxhill Lane, and walked  on track to the top of "One Tree Hill" with its wonderful views over the Vale of Pewsey.  The day was fresh with little sunshine, but at least it wasn't raining!   We headed back to Devizes for lunch via the hamlet of Sleight, which lies at the foot of Etchilhampton Hill.

Only six of us ventured out in the semi gloom, and above to the right are the walkers, with Etchilhampton Hill in the background.  As the  ground is so waterlogged and muddy at the moment, it is difficult to find easy walks, where we avoid becoming covered in mud!

The leaden sky above the lane leading into "Drew's Pond" Nature Reserve, looked as if a cloudburst was imminent, but fortunately it stayed dry.  The field ditches were filled to overflowing with water, and at one point we met an elderly man, who was doing his best to clear blocked culverts and drains.

We had lunch in "The White Bear," a pub that has existed as an ale house since 1673, and one of the oldest pubs in Devizes.   It was originally built early in the 17th century, and is a three gabled Tudor building, with colourful 300 year old paintings on a beam above the bar, which can be seen in the above photo.  I enjoyed a ham and salad filled bageuette, washed down with half a pint of cider.   Ahhh,  very tasty!