PHOTOS MARCH 2009
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I bet you've been wondering where I've been with the photos from March 2009. The truth is that there are quite a few of them - so much so that I've been obliged to start off several new themed pages which may well see the light of day in due course.
In addition to that, some of the photos have really come out rather well so I've needed to do plenty of work to them to hide the imperfections and the like. All of this has taken time.
March was the month during which I was to return to the UK for the first time since the events of early August 2008. I was on a shopping expedition and so room in Caliburn was going to be at a premium.
With a big van, it's not always easy to fill it full of small things. They tend to rattle around all over the place and if you put big things in there with them there is a tendency for things to become broken. Some kind of engineering was clearly called for.
If the framework in the above image didn't give the game away, then this photo will convince you of what I'm doing. What with a load of heavy batteries that I'm planning to bring as well as a pile of fragile solar panels and other similar stuff, then the best way to keep everything separate is by fitting a suspended floor in the back.
It's only cheap OSB flooring panels but if it does the job then it's good enough. The heavy stuff can go underneath and the fragile stuff can go on top.
And that's not all either. If you look on the inside of the right-hand door you will see that I've fitted the 12-volt water heater in a more permanent arrangement. It's nice to have warm water when I'm travelling about and seeing that I have the appliance to do it then I may as well use it.
You may also remember that I bought a solar panel for someone back in July last year, but she never came round to pick it up or even pay me for it. So while I'm waiting for her to organise herself I've fitted it to Caliburn's roofrack and installed a spare battery and the control panel from the Tower of Power which you can see on the inside of the left-hand door. This will keep the laptop and other appliances charged up while I'm on my way round.
And while I was preparing to come away I did some (but not much) tidying up of the wood that I'd cut down through the winter. I noticed with some surprise that some of the offcuts had sprouted buds, meaning that there was still some life left in them.
As the soil was still quite soggy from the winter rains, I stuck some of the offcuts into the ground. They have two choices - either they will push down roots or they won't. But they certainly won't if I don't put them into the ground so I have nothing to lose by trying.
We also had a foot-fest the last weekend I was here too. All three teams from my local club were in action and keen supporter that I am, I went round photographing them all in action.
Keen followers of my activities know that I keep a web page for the local team where I put up the pics and write little reports of the matches. Nothing exciting but it keeps me out of mischief and gives me something to do, for as you know this part of the world isn't blessed with much excitement.
And the final piece of excitement before I was due to leave - in fact on the very morning of my departure - was the arrival of this beastie.
You may remember me complaining that I was sinking into the sand and stones that they had laid down on the road that that had built for me (thank you, M le Maire). Well, not any more. This machine squashed down the stones and the sand and made something like an acceptable surface for me to drive on down to where I'm going to be putting my parking space.
For a change, I took the ferry from Boulogne - probably a mistake as the cancelled the early morning one and with there being only two crossings per day, there was a long wait. This gave me an opportunity to mooch around the town and the docks and I'll be putting up the results of my prowling in early course.
As usual, I couldn't resist a wander around the docks, where there was this exciting ship in port. It's called the "Bourbon Eiffel" and it's some kind of bulk carrier. Probably a coaster kind of thing that plies around and about the Channel.
I can't remember where I was when I took this pic. Somewhere in Milton Keynes I think.
If you think about most wind turbines, they are what is known as horizontal-axis turbines, in that the blades rotate around a horizontal axis. This is a vertical-axis wind turbine, with the blades rotating round the vertical axis.
Although they take up much less space, the construction needs to be so much more solid with big heavy bearings to resist the wind pressures on the larger surface area, and there are issues with the back pressures on the opposite blade that might inhibit free rotation.
I'm having to rethink a few of my overnight stops when I'm in the UK. I had no idea that my esteemed organ was so popular. What with so many keen readers, several of my favourite spots have sprouted "Private Property - No Overnight Parking - Wheelclamping In Force" signs.
Of course, wheel clamps don't frighten me. Not for nothing do I carry a battery-powered angle grinder in Caliburn and one of those will make short work of a wheel clamp but it's just so much of a pain - typical of what's happening in the UK right now as Big Brother has the entire population under surveillance even more than before.
So who needs to sleep on a supermarket car park anyway, when just a few miles away there's a place like this to stay?
This is Nantwich in Cheshire, and here we are just to the south of the town right by the banks of the River Weaver on the road to Whitchurch. Nantwich is where I went to school and here are my bankers, a couple of useful cheapo shops that always have exciting stuff in, a pile of high-class charity shops, an Oxfam bookshop, etc etc ad infinitum.
No visit to the UK is complete without a call at Nantwich, for a variety of reasons. and as long as the Council doesn't put up any "Private Property - No Overnight Parking - Wheelclamping In Force" signs, this will be where I'll be staying. You can't ask for anywhere nicer than this.
So while we are having some kind of nostalgia trip (bearing in mind that nostalgia ain't what it used to be) on the way back from a visit to Ilkeston to my friend Caroline's in Congleton, I took a drive over Cloud End.
In the mid-70s I played bass guitar in a rock group with some guys from out here and I was forever driving over this road but I never had the time to stop and look at the impressive views. Today though, I stopped and took a pic of the viaduct that carries the Stoke-on-Trent - Manchester railway line over the River Dane bewteen Congleton and Macclesfield.
There are also some good views from here over the Pennines. In the distance is Axe Edge which is crossed by the A54 road from Congleton to Buxton. Taking the A54 to Buxton is a shorter distance than going to Buxton via Macclesfield and the Cat and Fiddle but the road is much more difficult and is often closed in winter
Now as you know, I'm heavily into wind turbines and live with four of them. And it astounds me why there is so much opposition to them. A few years ago there was this campaign to "Save Our Unspoilt Maer Hills", between Newcastle Under Lyme and Market Drayton, from a wind turbine or two. Yet the first thing you noticed on visiting Our Unspoilt Maer Hills was a pair of mobile phone masts perched proudly on the summit. You really can't make up this kind of thing.
Axe Edge would be an absolutely ideal place for a huge wind farm like those in the USA but just imagine the outcry. A television transmitter is however quite acceptable. You can't make that up either.
We seem to be full of places where we stopped for the night at the moment. After seeing Caroline I had to head off towards Manchester where I had a good deal of shopping to do.
This nice little spot is just off the A556 on a stretch of road that was abandoned when they built the M56 back in the 1970s. The M56 is right behind where I'm taking this pic, and the A556 is on top of the bank at the right of the image, yet it was pretty quiet as long as I parked Caliburn head-first far enough away from the fence.
As an aside, the A556 is the way I used to come back from Manchester when I went there on a regular basis in the 1970s visiting friends, going to rock concerts and the like. Sometimes I would have a young lady of the female sex with me, and so a greal deal of indoor alligator wrestling took place down here.
My perambulations took me over to Sheffield and South Yorkshire for a few bits and pieces. This also involved an overnight stop in Caliburn, and I reckon that this venue beats just about everywhere else I've ever stayed.
It's Ladyblower Reservoir, between Glossop and Sheffield via Snake Pass and scene of my triumph in 1971 when I finished 17th in the Northwestern Schools Orienteering Championships and no, there were not only 17 entrants either!
As well as the spectacular view, there was an excellent toilet block with hot water (but restricted opening times), and a long corridor for the entrance so that you have time to cover yourself up when someone comes in when you are in the middle of a good strip-down wash.
On the way back from Sheffield I came over Woodhead Pass and stopped at the old railway tunnel. I had a good explore and took loads of photos so I'll put up a separate web page for that in due course.
I'll just give you a quick explanation of why this tunnel is symbolic of the stupidity of the British and their rail transport systems. This line was the shortest and quickest way between Manchester and South Yorkshire although it was the most difficult to work. It was always a busy line and in fact was one of the first trunk routes in the UK to be electrified. This involved the replacement of the old twin tunnels by a new one, built in 1954 with sufficient headroom to take the overhead cables.
Traffic became so heavy on the line with all of the industrial goods from South Yorkshire speeding to the docks at Manchester and Liverpool that the decision was made to halt all passenger traffic (routing it via the Hope Valley line) and using this line simply for freight traffic. Several small communities were thus deprived of their rail link.
A short while after the end of passenger services, the British economy collapsed. With the closure of most of Britain's manufacturing base, freight traffic dwindled away to nothing and the decision was made to close the line completely, probably not even 25 years after the enormous investment in electrification and the new tunnel.
There has been talk of reopening the line as there is no real main line between Manchester and South Yorkshire, but the railway authorities prefer to sell the track bed and tunnels to an electricity company so that it might utilise the infrastructure for its cables.
There's also a popular urban myth that the tunnels are used for the storage of several steam locomotives, maintained in full working order and ready to regain the rails the moment the oil runs out. Presumably driven by King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and Sir Francis Drake. But if they are in here, they won't be coming out through the Manchester end of the tunnel, that's for sure.
After Woodhead I'd been around the St Helens area with things to do, places to go, things to see and all that. I was on my way to North Wales from there and so this involved a crossing of the Runcorn Suspension Bridge.
It's probably 30 years since I last drove over there at night and I remember it being illuminated quite nicely. I'm quite into bridges and civil engineering and so I reckoned that I would stop and take a photograph if it looked as nice as I remembered it.
What do you think?
I stopped that night on another one of my favourite haunts - the car park of the Little Chef just off the North Wales Expressway (A55) near Halkyn. This is Esi's neck of the woods by the way.
Right at the back is quite quiet and peaceful as you can see.
But with it being the car park of a commercial operation it's an extremely good idea to buy yourself a breakfast or something next morning. These people need to make a profit and if you take too much of an advantage of them and their facilities they'll simply chain up the parking, which is no good for anyone. Even though my beans and toast and coffee cost me ...gulp... over six quid.
The main reason for wanting to stop the night here is that the view in the morning is one of the best in the whole of North Wales. You can see right across the Dee estuary, the Wirral and the River Mersey and have a really good bird's eye view of Liverpool.
So what went wrong this morning then? Simply that instead of the westerly prevailing winds blowing this morning, we had a nor'easter. Hence all of the smoke from the burning cars in Kirkby and the riots in Toxteth was being pushed right across the Wirral.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
I have some friends who live in Pathhead near Edinburgh on the A68 and it was one of those places on my list to visit as it's probably 20 years since I came through here and I was busy then so I didn't stop.
Arriving at 02:00 in the morning there wasn't too much to see so I looked for a place to park for the night. This layby is just a short distance south of the town - plenty of room and separated from the roadway by a sort-of hedge.
No loos of course so the plant-pot came in handy.
Mind you, I should have carried on driving for there were some even better places to stay just a little further on. And right on the brow of the hill there was a lay-by with some of the most spectacular views you could wish for.
Right in front was a really impressive wind farm. These turbines are quite majestic.
The view behind was just as impressive. You could see right across Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth and well into Fife. When I do my Scottish Borders page you'll see what I mean.
This visit to the UK was full of sadness. If you have read many of my pages you will recall frequent mentions of my friend Liz Ayers who was an almost-constant travelling companion while we served together on various committees on behalf of the Open University and the Open University Students' Association.
Unfortunately Liz passed away on March 12th after a very short illness and my main purpose of being in the UK was to attend her funeral, which took place in Durham.
Liz has a very pretty daughter called Katherine (third from the left in this photograph) and Katherine has a host of pretty female friends from school, college and university.
And of course, where you are likely to find a bunch of pretty young ladies of the female sex, you are also likely to find Strawberry Moose in there somewhere. He's not going to miss out on a photo opportunity when there are all these young ladies around, is he?
From Durham it was down to Corby to pick up a wind turbine - a major investment for me right now. I took the road from Leicester via Melton Mowbray and Oakham and it took me absolutely ages to find somewhere decent to stop for the night.
I wasn't all that far out of Corby when I finally found somewhere decent, and I have to say that it was worth the drive to get here.
Once again, the large plant pot came in handy.
Keen readers of my pages will recall that I've stopped overnight at this location before. November 2007 in fact. Even-keener readers will compare this photo with this one from November 2007 and look for any subtle differences.
One difference that you might notice is that in the more recent photo there is a pole with a CCTV camera perched on top. That will account for the back door of Caliburn being wrenched open dramatically at about 03:00 in the morning. I wasn't impressed by that at all, and the lady bobby who did it had much more than she bargained for, in all senses of the word.
I'm glad I live abroad now, because this surveillance society that is the UK is getting toally on my wick. The average Brit is filmed or photographed about 200 times each day while going about his ordinary business and there's simply no end to it. Many years ago I worked in the Soviet Union and there were policemen or soldiers on every street corner. Who needs policemen and soldiers on street corners when you have CCTV cameras?
I once asked someone in the USSR why they had these officials stationed on every corner. "Security reasons" replied the official. "To prevent crime and keep our citizens safe". So just read the news article again. The UK and the USA spent 70 years trying everything they knew to topple the totalitarian and oppressive regime that was the USSR. When are they going to admit that the USSR was right after all?
Having picked up my wind turbine a few days ago, the next step was to pick up the solar panels. This entailed a drive out to Machynlleth (pronounced something like "Mahunthleth") in mid-Wales.
It was cold and dark as I set off to drive down here and by the time I found somewhere to stay it was also miserable, wet and extremely windy. This layby was at the summit of a steep climb between Dolgellau (pronounced something like "Dolgethlee") and Machynlleth (pronounced as before) so I didn't get a good look at where I was.
In actual fact I am right in the shadow of Cader Idris, all 2928 feet of it, and with a spectacular view looking down towards Abergynolwyn and Aberllefenni, which railway buffs will immediately recognise as "the Corris Railway".
I've slept in some spectacular places just recently and while this place loses out due to the lack of facilities, you have to admit that in the good weather and the sunshine this view would be second to none.
I must also ask Rhys to look out for a decent second-hand long-hop lens.
I'm slowly heading homewards now but there's still a call to be made at Fareham down on the soth coast. That's not too far from Strawberry Moose's Uncle Dondons and Auntie Lilian and a visit down to that neck of the woods is always called for.
Donald and Lilian are really nice people and they are big fans of Strawberry. and they also live in the centre of a triangle bounded by Towsure, IKEA and Toolstation, with Northern Tools just down the road at Pompey.
I still had a couple of days before I wzs due to go home so I went for a wander along the south coast. Many years ago, in 1971 if I remember correctly, I'd been to Seaford with my Aunt Mary when I was staying with her in West Whickham. I'd never been there since and as I couldn't remember anything about the place I went for a wander in that direction.
But never mind Seaford - just look at this sunset! This alone has to be worth the price of the admission.
I wanted to stay the night somewhere round about Pevensey so I could follow in the footsteps of William the Conqueror, but it was a Battle to find anywhere suitable. Instead I found a reasonable parking spot at a place Called Norman Bay.
Well, that's near enough. The view from across the road was pretty good anyway.
I was told that there's a part of the beach just along here that is a nudist colony. Mike Deverell once told me that he'd tried nudism, but he couldn't stick it out all that long.
Sometimes when you are driving around you see something like a road sign that makes you have a double-take, makes you ask yourself "did they really mean to say that?" and then makes you park up and wander off to take a photograph of the sign as a record for posterity.
The funny part about it all though is that I showed the pic to several of my British friends and not a single one of them understood the irony.
The UK is just getting worse and worse and no-one has a sense of humour any more.
Final port of call was Dungeness, the shingle beach that stretches out into the English Channel. The English Channel is the M25 of shipping lanes, so much so that the ships are put into lanes - southbound ships hug the English coast and northbound ships are about 5 miles off the French coast.
There was a collision here between two ships, one of which was carrying blue paint and the other which was carrying red paint. Both ships sank and the survivors were marooned on a sandbank.
I'm heavily into lighthouses as well as bridges, and here at Dungeness there is not one lighthouse but two. The smaller one is the older of the two but when the nuclear power station in the background was built, it obscured the light of the lighthouse in the southwestward direction.
Given the importance of the shipping lanes here it was necessary to build a new lighthouse that would be taller so that the beam could be seen all along the coast.
I'm also interested in railways, especially of the steam-engined type and down in south-east Kent there is the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
Unlike many modern narrow gauge steam railways, this one is actually running to the dimensions to which it was built and much of the equipment is that which was originally supplied to the line (although some of the locomotives and equipment have been acquired from elsewhere). It's this originality for the most part that gives the line its charm.
So where did I stay during my sojourn at Dungeness? Well, in a public car park right by the pub but also in the shadow of the nuclear power station.
An unusual location for me you might think, but two factors came into play.
Firstly......... I could write almost anything about almost anyone and there would be no question of a tactical retaliatory strike by the Americans, Turdi de Hatred or by anyone else for that matter. Not when I'm only 200 yards from a nuclear power station.
Secondly.... there is the fastest wi-fi internet connection I have ever seen. You have no idea of the amount of work I accomplished sitting in the sunshine on my collapsible armchair with my computer on the collapsible table.
All in all, I was quite at home here.