PHOTOS JUNE 2009
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Back in the late 1970s I went to Scotland skiing with my mate Alvin and his girlfriend Ann. On one occasion Alvin reckoned that I was getting rather too familiar with Ann so he GRRRRRRRRd at me. I thought that was extremely funny so I saved it in the back of my mind.
With the rise of computer messaging, it's something that I dragged out from the dark recesses of my mind and when I moderated a kids' chat room on the internet I GRRRRRd at the kids on a constant basis. This they found pretty amusing and they went off GRRRRRRing at each other. And now it's become part of the internet folklore.
I think that McCains now GRRRRRRRRing at everyone is extremely amusing.
While I was out on my travels I came across a bizarre kind of caravan - one that connects up to the hatchback of a small saloon car. It's a Maillet Randocar, for anyone who is interested.
I talked to the owners and had a guided tour. They told me how difficult it was to keep their lights in the caravan working when there was no electric hook-up. I showed them the solar panel on the roof of Caliburn and my home-made control panel. Now I have my first customer.
I went to Menat today for the Foire aux Choux - the Cabbage Fair (you can see what exciting times we have around here) and there was some live rock music promised for later, so I hung around. Live music that I like is few and far between round here so I give it support when and where I can.
But would you believe this? The group actually had a drum machine playing to help the drummer keep time! What on earth is that all about? If the drummer can't keep time on his own, what is he doing on the stage? It was amazing. So much so that I piddled off home.
Carole told me about the time when she lived for six months in a tent on a campsite. To wash some of her clothes she put them in a plastic container with water and some soap powder and gave them a good shake.
That is of course all very well but things are generally better-washed if you use warm water and dark-coloured receptacles are much better at absorbing the heat from the sun. Consequently a dark red plastic container was quickly pressed into service - and the results were positive.
Like Abdul the Suicide Bomber I'm about to go off on holiday. Now I have a wind turbine - the old Rutland WG901 - doing nothing at the moment and my friends Jean and Elizabeth have this magnificent site on the top of a hill with a deep east-west valley at the foot. Just the place for a wind turbine, methinks.
And so with their permission I dropped by on my way off and stuck the turbine up on the end of their garage to see what damage I could do with it. And it was ever so impressive - spinning round while I was holding it, never mind its being on a mast. I reckon I ought to mount one of my recalcitrant AIR 403 turbines up there.
And so having dealt with that then here I come on my hols. In the distance through the window of my ferry are the cliffs of Dover with one of the Chain Home radar stations up there on the right and Dover Castle. The view from the top of the cliff is stunning and it's no surprise that the Romans had a fort and lighthouse up there
It's always busy crossing the English Channel - it's the main route for ships heading from the major North European ports into the Atlantic and there are several ferry companies that ply the Channel from Dover to various mainland ports.
First night was spent in a layby just off the M3 near Twyford. It was quite quiet here and I'll recommend this spec to anyone passing this way.
Someone did telephone me at about 08:00 but I wasn't complaining. It was someone who had seen the advertising on Caliburn and was interested in a chat about a project for solar energy. And I'll wake up early any time of the day to talk to people about the floding stuff.
while I'm on my travels I keep a constant lookout for items that I can use to my advantage or that I can resell. I discovered this in a supermarket just before I boarded the ferry. It's a solar panel cunningly arranged as a briefcase so it's easy for carrying if you are on a camping holiday or suchlike. A small battery and a 1-watt LED light and you won't need any more than this.
It also has a nifty converter for transforming the current from 12-volt to 3, 6 and 9 volts which means that you can run a small radio or suchlike from it. And with the cigarette lighter socket you can charge up a portable telephone.
In Caliburn I used to carry a large porcelain plant pot. It was used to keep the camping stove in so that the wind won't blow out the flame. Once I had cooked my meal, I would turn it upside-down to sit on using the floor of Caliburn as a table. Finally I would turn it back the right way up again, put a bin liner which I had half-filled with newspaper inside and use it for another purpose relating to the consumption of food.
However I was always worried about doing myself a mischief sitting on something like that. One day it would be bound to break and shatter my prospects. This aluminium plant pot looks much more suitable.
Another one of my favourite places to spend the night is on the seafront at Whitburn between Sunderland and Newcastle-upon-Tyne and it's thanks to the dear departed and much-missed Liz that I was introduced to here. The North-East of England was somewhere I had never much been to and I've come to like it quite a lot.
Mind you it isn't half cold here when a bitter north-east wind blows up from the Arctic. Nothing between here and the North Pole except a couple of thousand miles of open water and a Polar icecap.
As I have mentioned in the past Strawberry has his fair share of admirers who take advantage of modern communication methods to keenly follow his adventures. And seeing that we were up in the North-East of England it took but a matter of 20 minutes to go to Hexham to meet up with Dave, who is a keen follower of my blog.
Of course, Caliburn features quite heavily in these pages and it is only right that he makes the most of this very welcome photo opportunity.
We also took advantage of the coffee bar at the supermarket here. And why not?
It also led to a wander around the town and its collection of Charity Shops. For people who are non-British, most towns in the UK are full of empty shops as out-of-town Shopping Centres spring up everywhere, and many Charities have lost all of their funding due to the National Lottery profits being diverted to such White Elephants as The Olympic Blames in London.
As a result of this many Charities have taken over these empty shops and receive the detritus from house clearances, bequests, jumble sales and the like, and sell the items on to the public for a small fee. Quite often they are veritable treaure troves, as at Hexham.
As well as Charity Shops, car scrapyards are veritable treasure troves, as long as you can find one that will let you wander around and have a nosy. It's really quite ironic the muddle that British legislation has tangled itself into. Car scrapyards are one of the oldest and most popular forms of recycling, which is of course environmentally-friendly and encouraged by the Government, yet the Government's Health and Safety Executive wants to close them down to the public.
So whenever I can I find one that will let me go for a wander I always do and I often come up trumps.
From the back to the front we have
i.... a couple of fuseboxes from Vauxhall Astras - one huge heavy lead in, 8 large fuses in line, and 8 leads out
ii... a 12-volt water pump off a Volvo 440
iii.. a pile of 12-volt clocks
iv... a couple of fuse boxes off Rovers (and I can't remember which model) but they have one huge heavy lead in, 4 large fuses in line, and four leads out
v.... a couple of large fuses.
£30 that lot cost me, and I was happy with that.
Since I have been evicted from the ASDA car park at Wolstanton due to the "THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY" "NO OVERNIGHT PARKING" signs everywhere (of course it means that they lose my custom next morning as I now stock up for breakfast and lunch elsewhere so how shortsighted is that?) I need to find another place to stay.
A few miles up the road is a pull-off just by the M6 interchange and it's quite popular with lorries and the like. It's noisy at about 05:00 when they all wake up and drive away but I can cope with that. I can't cope with the weather though.
These days on the roads in Britain you quite often encounter nothing but prats everywhere - and here on the Motorway Services at Strensham is no exception. Some woman (I hesitate to use the term "lady") pulled up in her BMW and parked it on the diagonal right across two parking spaces and then walked away.
The irony of the "are you parking that or simply abandoning it?" went right over her head but then again the way things are in the UK right now, even that is not surprising.
It was almost the Summer Solstice and so I was on my way to meet Sue near Swindon. I arrived quite early and so I spent the night in a layby near Winterbourne Bassett.
It was quite windy here and I was rather too close to the traffic for my liking, and there was nothing in the way of facilities here - not even a roach coach ("Burger Van" for the uninitiated). Still driving around at 03:00 looking for a place to stop is awlways going to be problematic.
First place that Sue and I went to for the Solstice was Silbury Hill. It is the largest artificial mound in Europe (I suppose they exclude slag heaps and the like from this definition) with a circumference of 1700 feet and a height of 550 feet.
Originally it was thought to be the work of the Devil. He was carrying a sack of earth to drop on Devizes to bury it (and having visited that fair town I can quite understand why - obviously a man of good taste) but was discouraged by a beggar and so dropped his load just here. Later it was thought to be a Neolithic burial mound but despite various attempts at excavation, one of which has seriously undermined the Hill, nothing of any merit has been discovered.
Walking over from Silbury Hill to Avebury we were overtaken by this aeroplance coming in to land at Wootton Bassett nearby. Sue thinks that it is this plane that brings back to the UK the bodies of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Not of course that I have any sympathy with them. These people go off and are trained to kill other human beings and then go off and invade someone else's country and do their best to kill its inhabitants. Surely it doesn't take any effort of the imagination to work out that while they are doing this there are other people in that country who will be resisting the invader and shooting back.
"He who lives by the sword ..." and all that.
But this is something that I had no pleasure at all in observing. Here we are at the Summer Solstice, at Avebury which is a site of pilgrimage for many "New Age" people, and the whole place is crawling with the Police. I asked one of the officials of the Avebury site what the police were doing here in such numbers and I was told
"Well, it's the Solstice ..."
Now my experience of New Age people is mostly "Peace and Love, hey, man?" and whatever issues might arise from a couple of thousand New Agers congregated together can easily be defused by a couple of Bobbies with good will and good humour. This lot here (and there was probably fifty times this altogether) was nothing more than confrontational if you ask me.
So finally at Avebury and rather like in a first-class restaurant, Sue and I waited until a stone came free and we settled down in the shade to have our lunch.
One thing about places like this is that for anyone who is sensitive, there is quite an atmosphere to detect here. There is certainly something about these kinds of places that is very difficult to explain. These stones around the village aren't simply a haphazard arrangement of random rocks and there's definitely some kind of energy being given out from here.
Sue and I were not alone at Avebury either. Strawberry decided that at a certain point he would accompany us on the walk and make the place more famous that it already is.
He's not one for missing out on a photo opportunity, as you know.
He's becoming quite a well-travelled Moose these days what with one thing and another.
From up here near Winterbourne Bassett we are right on the edge of the Marlborough Downs with an excellent view (if that's the phrase to use) of Swindon away in the distance.
Swindon is, as you know of course, a modern town although there is an "Old Swindon" away to one side of the new town. This old town was perched on a steep hill and there was no way that Brunel was ever going to have his engines going up and down there on their way to Bath, Bristol and the New World. So he bought the land in the valley, put his railway line and his station down there, and built a new town around it.
These days, Swindon is much more famous for its Magic Roundabout and if I told you all about that and what it involves you would never believe me.
Over there we have, in order of appearance, Brunel's Great Western railway line to Bath Bristol and all points west, Wootton Bassett, the M4 Motorway, the RAF air base, and away in the distance the Cotswold Hills.
You are probably wondering about all of these places that end in "Bassett" and what is their significance. It all dates back to the time of the Domesday Book and the great survey of William the Conqueror's new kingdom.
Up until that date it had rarely been the habit of the ruler to visit his outlying domains and his subjects would not be in the habit of straying too far from their homes. Hence there could well be several Woottons and several Winterbournes all in Wiltonshire (or Wiltshire as it is known in modern times) and nobody would care.
But when William's surveyors went about their business taking the inventory and encountered several Woottons and Winterbournes and the like in the same county and then went back to the King to make their report, the King would inevitably ask
"which Wootton are you talking about now?".
And the response would be something like "the one that you gave to My Lord Bassett"
And if no Norman Lord had yet been given any particular village, the village would probably be known by the name of the saint of the church, i.e. Winterbourne St Mary, to distinguish it from any other.
Leaving Sue behind, my next visit was up in the mountains near Hereford to talk to someone about wind turbines. And so here near Pontrilas I found myself a convenient lay-by for the night.
Nicely separated from the road and right by the village church, it was quite a peaceful spot. Mind you, I was lucky I suppose that the church clock didn't strike the hours.
No facilities here though, and so the plant pot beichstuhl came in handy again.
While I'm on my travels I'm taking the opportunity to go a-wandering around various football grounds of some significance, and here is one such stadium. Back in 1992 the Welsh Premier League was launched with something of a fanfare (if you will excuse the pun) and 20 teams were plucked out of relative obscurity to make up the League.
Today the League has been reduced to 12 clubs and they compete on equal terms in the Champions League and the Europa League with some of the biggest clubs in Europe in stadia that are light years away from what was on offer in 1992 with television gantries and all of that. Here in the small mid-Wales town of Llanidloes, or "Llandildoes" as it was known to followers of Shitesports, the local club proudly entered the league on the opening day, was relegated at the end of the first season and has slipped back down the pyramid into relative obscurity.
These days Rhyl plays its football in a stadium that has been furnished with grandstands from Manchester City's Maine Road ground, Port Talbot Town has recently built a 1000-seater grandstand and Neath has moved to play at The Gnoll, the home of one of Rugby Union's most famous clubs. But for those of you with nostalgia for the heady days of 1992, here's a trip down Memory Lane to a ground that hasn't changed a brick since those days.
From Llanidloes there are two ways to get to Machynlleth - the pretty way and the even prettier way. The latter, being the route that I took, goes straight up and staight down all over the mountains, but you can make a handy stop at Llyn Clywedog
Wales has probably the highest consistent rainfall in the UK, it's relatively unpopulated, it's full of steep-sided valleys and it also has the misfortune of being not too far from the thriving conurbations of Liverpool and Birmingham, which have a desperate thirst for water.
Now in the overall scheme of things, there are few serious objections about the idea of damming some of the valleys and sending the water to the English. But in a country that is quite poor and with few natural resources now that the coal and slate have been worked out, it would be nice if those large conurbations expressed their gratitude for the water in a monetary fashion. A tenner a head from everyone in Brimingham and Liverpool pumped each year into this area and the Elan Valley would make a temendous difference to the local economies. 20p per week for all the water you can drink must be a good deal all round for everyone.
Coming back from Machynlleth I took a slight deviation to the small town of Llanfair Caereinion. It is the terminus of the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway, one of the "Great Little Trains of Wales" - the narrow-gauge railways that did so much to open up these little valleys back in the late 19th Century and bring them kicking and screaming into the modern world.
There were dozens of them all over the place but either the exhaustion of the local resources, such as with the slate lines in the North-West, or the relentless advance of the motor lorry did for them by the end of the 1930s.
Some lines were ripped up and stripped of their assets but others were simply abandoned, many with the equipment still in place. The 1950s and 60s saw the rise of the Preservation movement and the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway was restored by volunteers to become a tourist attraction.
We were talking about Welsh Premier League football grounds a little earlier and how they had evolved into something far different from how they all were back in 1992. Perhaps I should have qualified this with a "most of them" because at the time I took this photo, in June 2009, this was a Welsh Premier League ground. It's Maes-y-Dre, or Town Field for the non-Welsh speakers amongst us and it is the home of Welshpool Football Club.
Ground regulations state, inter alia that there should be seating for a minimum of 250 people. In the grandstand over there I counted 252 seats, but with several ripped out the total was something less. The regulations also state that there should be hardstanding all around the pitch. And look as I might, I couldn't see any at all on the side of the pitch nearest where I was standing. I'm told that on matchday they put down coconut matting so as not to offend the cricketers.
I remember when the team won promotion to the League and the scandal that erupted when it was announced that the ground had passed the League's inspection. It is not for me to comment or to even speculate on any of the reasons why this ground was considered to comply with the League's regulations but the clear lack of commitment by the club to improve the ground at any subsequent date meant that in 2010 after another round of ground improvements had been called for by the League, the club voluntarily relinquished its licence rather than improve their ground.
This on the other hand IS a Welsh Premier League football ground. It's Park Hall just outside Oswestry, the home of TNS, The New Saints, or "They've No Support" to Shitesports fans. And just like at Maes-y-Dre above I'm not sure who is taking the mickey out of who just here.
When the club was simply known as Oswestry Town in the days before Mike Harris became involved, this ground was the old army camp sports stadium with a proper pitch and a running track around the outside. It was in poor state of repair but the setting was beautiful and it really was quite relaxing to come here to watch a game.
But Mike Harris, success, European football and all the rest of it has led to the transformation of the place into a "Sports Village" with bar, squash courts, an artificial all-weather pitch and a chain-link fence. Ideal conditions for watching a a factory 5-a-side tournament if you ask me but to play a competitive football match against the might of European opposition? I think not, and I'm not at all certain that many other people think that it is either.
Mike Harris and I are old acquaintances and so he'll understand me speaking my mind. But the fact that when Chester FC folded in 2010 and he expressed an interest in moving his club to the Deva Stadium just as he had moved his club here after it had outgrown the village of Llansantffraid shows that Welsh Premier football at Park Hall is just a transient thing. What you really need to do, Mike, is to forget any thoughts of moving, change the name back to Oswestry Town and start to integrate your team into local society. Oswestry Town playing Liverpool, Anderlecht and CSKA Sofia in the European championships will win you many more friends and admirers than your own private team playing on your own private pitch ever will.
We are only a couple of days after midsummer and as any student of astronomy will tell you that when the days start to shorten it's the dawn that starts later in the morning. For the first couple of days after midsummer the sunset continues to be later.
And so here I am on the English-Welsh border near Ellesmere at true midnight and the sky is still light. This is the time of year that I really like especially when you are armed with a pretty good camera and a decent tripod.
And so in my quest for the ideal overnight parking spot I had a brainwave and took off to the railway station at Whitchurch in Shropshire. It was all dark and deserted when I arrived yet when I raised myself from the dead the place was crowded with commuter vehicles - people going to work in Crewe or Shrewsbury.
Yes, this s one of the best spots that I have found so far and I shall be here again. But whoever heard of a railway station without a public toilet? It's a good job that I have the plant-pot beichstuhl.
Computer buffs may well think that they pioneered the system of "open office" but I have had an "open office" on many occasions while I have been on my travels around.
This is one of my favourite spots to pass an idle hour or two in good weather - the banks of the River Weaver in Nantwich. Nantwich is where I went to Grammar School and I have quite an affection for the town. I know all of the crooks and nannies .... errr .... nooks and crannies around here and I can settle myself down quite comfortably.
From Nantwich my next port of call was Sheffield and the nicest way over to there was via the Snake Pass near Glossop. There are quite a few areas to stop and cook a meal and this was one of them.
I was, however, joined by members of the Derbyshire Contsbulary who dropped by to see what I was doing.
"There are some strange goings-on in these lay-bys" said one. And I was thinking that if I had had Percy Penguin with me there would have been some even stranger goings-on, but I digress.
I did ask the gentlemen concerned if they would like to stay to sample some of my couscous and kidney beans but they politely declined.
Another place where I stay for the night on a regular basis is the Forestry Commission car park at the head of the Ladybower Reservoir. This is without doubt one of my top-ten overnight parking places and if it had a broadband wi-fi connection it would be the top of the list.
There's a washroom with warm water and because of the way that the entrance is arranged you have plenty of notice of anyone else entering, quite useful if you are having a strip-down wash at the time. But having said that I feel quite uncomfortable about washing my naughty bits or having a quick gypsy's while I'm being overlooked by what the Channel ferry companies would call "a small family group".
While I'm on my travels in the UK I always do my best to visit a certain builders' demolition yard in North Staffordshire. As well as recycled gates and fireplaces and all of that kind of stuff he quite often has many other artefacts that come from Heaven alone knows where.
And if anyone has any ideas on this I would be most grateful. It has all the appearance of a broad-gauge railway carriage of some description but it's mounted on agricultural trailer wheels, has a trailerboard with lights, and has a towing A-frame so it's clearly meant to be pulled behind some kind of road-going vehicle.
"Showman's Goods" was what immediately sprung into my mind - fairground operators being renowned for all kinds of weird and wonderful things pulled behind old Foden lorries. But I'm open to suggestions so if you have any other ideas.
Another place I discovered on my travels that might be suitable to spend a relaxing while or two is the old basin on the Cauldon Canal near Froghall in North Staffordshire. A typical Pisces you will always find me doing my best to relax near water and this is a marvellous place to do it.
This area is part of a huge limestone outcrop and as the Agricultural Revolution placed more and more emphasis on fertilising the soil then burnt lime became in great demand all over the country. Huge lime kilns were built here using local coal to fire them, and the canal was built to take the lime away.
Now I have absolutely no idea what this aeroplane is doing here. We are in Bucknall, on the east side of Stoke on Trent, by the way and this aeroplane, a Short 360 "islandhopper" is parked on the playground of a local school.
I don't imagine that they flew it in here and the nearest airport is some distance away, so how on earth did it manage to arrive here? The question of logistics - bringing it here through the streets of Stoke on Trent on the back of a lorry - must have been frightening. And why would they want to do it anyway?
I spent a night at Stamford Bridge. Not the famous one of course - the one where Harold defeated Tostig, Harold Hot-rodder and the other Vikings in 1066 just a matter of days before he had to confront William the Conqueror at the other end of the country - but the other one, the slightly lesser-known Stamford Bridge near Chester
It's a cut-off of the A51 road from when they had to build a more modern bridge to take more modern traffic back in the 1930s. And when I woke up next morning I discovered that I had been parked next to these premises. Now I have no idea what on earth goes on inside those doors but it looks pretty frightening to me.
With a weekend where nothing at all was happening and with nothing else better to do I took myself off to the seaside. It's a long time since I've been able to sit and relax with nothing else to do.
Here I am on the North Wales coast at Penmaenmawr, between Bangor and Conwy with the North Wales mountains in the background. It's changed a lot since I used to come here in the 1970s, with the North Wales Expressway running about 50 yards from here. But it is at the top of a bank so the sound doesn't filter down to the seafront. Just as well, for I spent the whole weekend playing bass guitar and reading. Rydw yn hapys iawn.
Almost the same view, but at night-time and with the tripod which was an excellent purchase. Over to the left is the peninsula that leads to Llandudno and the mountain on the extreme left is the Great Orme, behind which Llandudno is situated, sheltering it and its sandy bay from the prevailing westerly winds.
The lights at the foot of the Great Orme are the lights of Deganwy, a modern Victorian town that was back in early medieval days the site of one of the palaces of the kings of Gwynedd.
We talked about the North Wales Expressway, the A55 that runs from the motorway network at Chester along the North Wales coast, built with European Union money to facilitate the movement of Irish goods to mainland markets once Ireland had joined the EU (the British government spending money to improve Welsh infrastructure? Perish the thought!) That's all the modern work that you can see in the background.
The North wales coast is famous for its flocks of wild seabirds and attracts bridwatchers from all over the place. Here is one such birdwatcher, although the kinds of birds that he is interested in watching are not the kind that have wings and feathers.
There can be few more delightful places to spend a night than in this bucolic setting. It's called Henhull, just a couple of miles outside Nantwich and most former pupils of Nantwich Grammar School will remember it as our cross-country runs used to go past it. I'd completely forgotten about it until last night coming back from the seaside.
It's close to the A51 so it's not totally peaceful but I had a really good night's sleep until 08.45. And I bet this place has everything going for it too, what with it being a mooring point for canal barges. There's a 3G internet connection, even though Nantwich is without, and I bet there's water, electricity, and all of that lark if I were to take myself off for a nosey. And probably a beichstuhl too, although of course I had the plant pot.