A Travellerspoint blog

Henge-ing our bets

Meeting my cousins in Swindon and we take a trip to one of England's most famous sites

rain 16 °C

Morgan and Lowri, two of my youngest cousins, spotted me as I passed through the ticket barriers at Swindon, and gave me a very warm welcome.

Aunt Alison gave us a lift back and I learnt that Morgan had very kindly given me his room for the night. I said hello to Uncle Richard and Iuean, the eldest of the siblings, and got down to business, playing soccer and jumping on the trampoline in the yard with the young uns.

After a lovely dinner, I went with Iuean to the cinema, where he bought us a ridiculously huge bag of popcorn as we sat down to watch ‘The Inbetweeners Movie’, a film based on a UK television show that I’d never heard of nor seen, but I quickly got the hang of it and it was good fun without being at all realistic.

Richard had taken the following day off work to show me around, and unfortunately the weather wasn’t looking good. We had a slow start to the morning, playing pool in the living room, before jumping in the car bound for Stonehenge.

We passed through Avebury on the way, another mysterious, larger stone circle, as well as a huge man-made hill that would have glistened white centuries ago – again, no one knows why this was built.

Morgan at Woodhenge

Morgan at Woodhenge

We had a brief stop at Woodhenge, a ‘henge’ made of wood, obviously, rather than stone. And then we finally reached Stonehenge, and I marvelled at the iconic picture, as the audio guide explained to us its possible origins and guessed at the methods of construction. It really is a strange place, but certainly powerful, and with the dark clouds in the sky behind, slightly menacing.

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The other excitement was the car crash, which probably happened as one car was turning into the Stonehenge car park as another went straight through. It can’t have been more than forty metres away from us, but we were sheltered by a fence and trees, and didn’t see any of it. It says something about human nature that plenty of visitors turned their backs to the magnificent structure and watched the drama of the crash unfold instead.

On our way back to the car the rain lashed down, nearly as heavy as Sri Lankan rain at its worst, and we dried off by the heater as we continued our drive to Salisbury.

Famous for its huge 13th Century cathedral, Salisbury is a nice little town, similar to Frome and Bradford On Avon in the feel of history. We had a great Italian lunch and had a look at the cathedral, unfortunately not going inside because of an ongoing funeral.

The old town gate

The old town gate

3The_magnif..thedral.jpgSalisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

But we’d still seen a lot over the afternoon, and we drove back to Swindon satisfied.

In the evening Morgan and I took their lumbering dog Fergus for a quick walk, and then let ourselves in to the local leisure club and had a long hit of table tennis. But again, all good things must come to an end. I had a train to Cardiff to catch, and Rich kindly dropped me at the train station to go ‘home’ to my other family.

Posted by sammyhez 22:31 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged stonehenge swindon Comments (0)

The Ireland tour of Somerset

I cross the border into southern Pommieland and explore Somerset

sunny 17 °C

On Wednesday, determined to make the most of my last few weeks in the UK, I jumped on the train and headed to Bath. The journey wasn’t as easy as it should have been, though, and we arrived around an hour late after a delay due to an apparently broken down train in the Severn Bridge.

By that time the morning sun had been replaced by afternoon cloud, and the prospect of exploring a new city sounded less inviting. But it’s not everyday that one gets the chance to visit a city with a bathing house dating back 2000 years, a bathing house so well-known that it lends its name to the town itself.

I first had a look at the Abbey, which, as a medieval construction, is relatively new. I quickly learnt that this part of the world is hugely historically significant, and there are a wealth of sites and monuments to explore.

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The Abbey was nice enough, but it was the neighbouring bathing establishment in which I was most interested. The hefty entrance fee was worth it for the view of the medieval abbey overlooking the Roman baths, if nothing else.

There was a comprehensive audio guide that tried to bring the baths to life, and various models and pictures that showed what they would have looked like in operation. In essence, it was a precursor to one of today’s leisure clubs, or spas and saunas. There were rooms with incredibly sophisticated underfloor heating, and large pools of warm water from underground springs. The arched roof over the main pool would have been around four storeys high, incredible for the time.

It’s astounding to think that the very same people that designed and constructed this believed that you could tell the future from sheep guts.

The Main Bath

The Main Bath

P1030601.jpgThe reconstruction of a Roman stone piece at the baths

The reconstruction of a Roman stone piece at the baths

Bath Abbey overlooks the bathing complex

Bath Abbey overlooks the bathing complex

I crossed town and had a quick look at the Assembly Rooms, where high society has dined and partied for centuries – both Charles Dickens and Jane Austen wrote of extravagant gatherings there. They were quite grand, but nothing too special, so I had a wander around the town before I heard from Jenny Ireland, our friend from nearby Frome (pronounced Froom).

The Assembly Rooms

The Assembly Rooms

She picked me up from the station and fed me a gorgeous pheasant dinner (yes, pheasant!) as we caught up on family and travelling matters.

The following morning I was given a tour of Frome, which, I must admit, really surprised me with its beauty and history. Most of the housing dates back to the 18th Century, if not earlier, and the main commercial strip, St. Catherine’s Hill, is a steep, charming, cobblestone road that looks as though it has been dragged out of a movie set.

Looking down Catherine Hill

Looking down Catherine Hill

One of the many 18th Century houses

One of the many 18th Century houses

St. John the Baptist Church

St. John the Baptist Church

There’s a walkway just underneath a beautiful old church, with a small stream running through the middle, and cafés spilling over onto the footpath. And you’ve still got the major shops – she’s got the best of both worlds.

The church in town

The church in town

The old printing press building

The old printing press building

The small cemetery behind the church

The small cemetery behind the church

But all good things must come to an end, and I packed my bags and we headed off. Our first stop was Nunney Castle, an apparently French-style fortress in the tiny town of Nunney, now uninhabited. It certainly would have been a grand home, though, with a nice little moat and four huge towers.

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We then continued driving to Bradford On Avon, a town as beautiful and quaint as Frome. A stroll along the Avon took us past the houseboats that cruise up and down the canal, before we swung around and saw the magnificent scenery of the built area of town. There was the tithe barn, a large medieval meeting place, and the sandstone-coloured houses on the hill, both very impressive. There’s a very nice cricket ground, too.

The Tithe Barn in BOA

The Tithe Barn in BOA

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Jenny and I then dropped in to see her parents, and we had a chat about life on the road. But trains wait for no man, and we both had to get going. We waved goodbye from opposite sides of the station, as she headed home and I made my way towards Swindon, my next destination.

Posted by sammyhez 22:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bath jenny frome Comments (0)

From war-torn Afghanistan to sodden Wales

More cricket, plus a couple of nice stories

rain 17 °C

There was drizzle throughout the morning on Saturday, and the sky looked more intimidating than an angry Jake Melksham. But Abercarn hadn’t officially called off the game, so we had to make the half-hour trip up to the Gwent valleys, only to arrive and find the pitch was almost entirely mud, and wet mud at that.

They were keen to play, though, having put hours of work into making it look semi-respectable, and after a two-hour delay and working over our captain, we eventually agreed to start. And then we lost the toss and were sent in. Awesome.

And even better, I was opening the batting! It turned out that there wasn’t too much to worry about, actually. The pitch wasn’t easy to survive on, and even harder to score runs on, but not as bad as it looked (which was very bad indeed). Just as I was building a formidable partnership with our captain at number three, he skied a ball to a recently moved fielder, and then I edged a ball behind. From 1/59 to 3/59 in the blink of an eye. I made 26, but should have made more.

I spent some time in the nets with four-year-old Harrison, who wandered up to me as I was giving the next batsman in a warm-up, and asked whether he could play. I said no, at first, because we were playing with a hard ball and he needed pads and a helmet.

So, lo and behold, he comes back ten minutes later fully kitted up! I obliged, and advised the captain afterward that he should get in his ear early about a transfer to St Fagans.

We eventually struggled to 8/117 off our 37 overs, possibly defensible, and went in for a well-deserved tea.

During the interval, of course, the rain came down, heavily, and ten minutes was enough to put the square under water and enough for us to call the match off. Back home we went, without a result.

With Tracey and Richard out for the evening, Molly very kindly and skilfully prepared a delicious and nutritious dinner, and we didn’t watch the premiere of X-Factor. No, really, we didn’t.

On Sunday, with the weather looking significantly better, I caught a lift with Rod and Chris to Pencoed, another valleys team. We completed our customary Sunday warm up – bowling to each other for five minutes before having a cursory look at the pitch (optional), then sitting in the change rooms – before the rest of the team had even turned up.

We lost the toss and were again inserted on an under-prepared wicket, losing the key wicket of Chris Howe very early. The rest of our top order stood firm, though, with young gun Gareth Lennon top scoring with 58, and I wasn’t required to bat at number nine as we ended on 6/153 off forty overs.

In reply, Pencoed started slowly and never really got going. I bowled eight overs for twenty-odd, including a wicket, and was getting it to turn significantly on the wearing pitch.

The main story of the day, though, was a fourteen-year-old from Afghanistan who was playing with us. He doesn't speak all that much English, having just moved to the UK, presumably as a refugee: his parents, apparently, were both killed in his homeland, and he lives with a foster family.

This match was during Ramadan, and so he didn't eat or drink throughout the day, yet still threw himself around in the field, kept chasing after the ball, and brought himself to bowl nearly seven overs of seam bowling spread over three spells.

He bowled his first six overs and kept it tight without much luck, and then was brought on in the last over to try to take the last wicket. After an edge over the slips off the first ball, he kept his line and length as the fifteen stone batsman charged at him. The ball nipped back between bat and pad to take the middle stump, and nothing could wipe the smile off his face for the rest of the day.

Or maybe he was just thinking about the food he was going to eat when the sun went down.

I know this isn't an earth-shattering tale, but it was great to see a kid who had come from such awful circumstances, playing cricket in the south Wales valleys, a world away from Afghanistan. And it reaffirmed to me the power of sport, and the potential of cricket in creating a united Afghanistan, and of course, the ridiculous amount of talent in that part of the world.

I went into work on Monday with Tracey, in what I expect will be my second last day, and managed to complete a few odd jobs before catching the train home in the evening.

On Tuesday I was expecting heavy rain, but the weather forecast was misguided and so, after taking Benson for a walk in the morning, and having a lovely sandwich in the garden with Tracey for lunch, I made my way to Whitchurch for my final MCC game, and indeed, my final midweek game for the trip.

Our opponent was the far superior Miskin Manor, and we looked pretty ordinary against their attack. When I came in with more than fourteen overs bowled and less than four to go, we were languishing at 4/60 or thereabouts. I utilised the very short boundaries and gave it a bit of a bash and crash, including a nice lofted drive over straight mid wicket, to take the team to 93 and lift my season strike rate with 21* off just ten balls.

It was never really going to be enough, though, and I bowled horribly, conceding anything up to thirty runs in my two overs to completely nullify my decent innings. I did manage a wicket though, when a half tracker was hit straight to all-round great bloke Al at cover, who couldn’t get out of the way in time and managed to hold on.

Overall, though, it wasn’t a horrible effort against a very good team. I said goodbye to my teammates for the last time and joined a few of them at the Pant Mawr pub for one last drink.

Posted by sammyhez 20:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged cricket Comments (0)

The rest of the Fest

After a whirlwind week of sightseeing and show-going-to, I head back to Wales

all seasons in one day 15 °C

On Thursday morning, I was a bit slow getting up, but got online eventually and booked tickets for five shows throughout the day – I figured I’d seen most of the town and may as well get a decent dose of the Fringe before I go back.

So I picked up some brunch before catching my first show, ‘Those Magnificent Men’, the story of John Alcock and Arthur Whitton Brown, the first men to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. A comedic play, it was amusing in parts, touching in others and educational, too. It had a brilliant set, that converted from a couple of tables and chairs to a model plane in a matter of minutes.

And it is a pretty good story, a story of yesteryear. For instance, one of their major competitors in this transatlantic feat gave them his fuel after theirs went bad, for free, so that they might have a better chance of completing the feat ‘for England’. Three and a half stars.

I had a couple of hours until my next show, so went for a walk to the Royal Mile, and when the rain began to fall, had a look around The People’s Story, a museum dedicated to the people of Edinburgh, how people made their living and how that has changed, what they did with their free time and, again, how that has changed, and the plight of the poor, with many living in slums, with diseases and starvation common.

The Canongate Kirkyard

The Canongate Kirkyard

When I left, it was dry again. Just. The Thursday forecast had been ‘white cloud’ on Wednesday morning, then ‘light rain’ on Wednesday night, then ‘sunny intervals’ on Thursday morning, and the true weather was something like ‘heavy showers’. It’s such a beautiful city, but the weather is ridiculously variable, even more so than Melbourne’s, and wetter. And colder. I didn’t take my jumper off outdoors for the entire five days, and this was supposedly the warmest month of the year. Not sure I’d want to visit in January.

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I walked to the venue for my next show, a serious play that had received rave reviews from numerous sources, but technical difficulties meant that it was going to start twenty minutes late. I only had fifteen minutes between this show and the next, so I tried to organise a refund, then ran back into town to sort it out before rushing back, just in time for my next show.

That was Jessica Ransom’s ‘Unsung Heroes’, supposedly a show dedicated to the people in society who get little recognition, but really just a nice way to tie all her sketches together. It worked well, and thanks to her proficient comic acting, it was funny throughout. Three and a half stars.

The next gig was in the same venue, and it was another relatively unknown sketch show performed by a group who call themselves ‘Delete the Banjax’. They had some very, very funny skits, and despite claiming to be hungover, the actors pulled them off with ease, too. Highly recommended, and a joy to go in with little expectation and have such a good laugh. Four and a half stars.

The Pleasance Courtyard

The Pleasance Courtyard

I had a nice Malaysian dinner (but found that my chopstick technique, which was never much good anyway, had completely deserted me thanks to a lack of practice), and then joined the queue for Richard Herring. I’d never heard of him, personally, but everyone else seemed to know him, a couple of people had told me he was good, and the reviews weren’t bad either, so I went along with the crowd.

His show was about love – what is it, is it real, and again, a nice theme from which to go off on tangents about semi-related topics. Not as many laughs as other shows, but much more thoughtful and intellectually stimulating. Three and a half stars.

On Friday morning, I packed my bag and checked out, leaving the luggage at the hotel while I climbed Arthur’s Seat. It looks over the city, and I was lucky to go up on a clear morning, as the views were incredible. Edinburgh is a very hilly place, which certainly has its drawbacks, but it also means there are plenty of good vantage points from which to see the city spread out below you.

Arthur_s_Seat.jpgCalton Hill from Holyrood

Calton Hill from Holyrood

Arthur_s_Seat_2.jpgSt. Anthony's Chapel in Holyrood Park

St. Anthony's Chapel in Holyrood Park

Sco'ish Parliament, with Holyrood Park in the background

Sco'ish Parliament, with Holyrood Park in the background

Arthur's Seat 3

Arthur's Seat 3

Arthur's Seat 4

Arthur's Seat 4

The view towards the New Town

The view towards the New Town

I walked back via the Royal Mile and picked up a few gifts before going back to the hotel, getting my bag, and finally getting to Waverley Station for my trip back to Cardiff. A very expensive week, but certainly worth it – I’d urge any travellers in Europe in August to do their best to get to the Edinburgh Fringe: there’s stuff for everyone and a buzzing atmosphere. A great event in a great city.

Posted by sammyhez 00:01 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged edinburgh Comments (0)

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