Seventy at Seventy

Life Begins at 70


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[35] A Cumbrian Property – A Blog about Lakeland

[35] A Cumbrian Property – A Blog about Lakeland

It’s about a holiday visit to Merlewood, a Holiday Property Bond site in Cumbria to the south of the Lake District. The county of Cumbria was created in 1974 from the previous counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland with small parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The Lake District

The Lake District, also known as Lakeland, is a mountainous region of England located entirely in the county of Cumbria. It is popular for its lakes, forests and mountains and its associations with Beatrix Potter, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin. Nearly all of it is covered by the Lake District National Park, the largest National Park of England and Wales.

Merlewood

The Holiday Property Bond (HPB) is a life assurance bond serving as a points based time-share holiday. It’s too complicated to explain here but bondholders can visit any site at any time of the year – as long as they have enough annual points unused for the year.

We visited Merlewood, an HPB site near to Grange-over-Sands in the Lake District (but just outside the National Park to the south). Like most of their sites Merlewood is a historic house modernized and augmented by surrounding holiday apartments.

We stayed in one of these apartments with a raised garden and woods behind us.

You can always find greyhound statues at HPB sites.

We went there for a week and fitted in a few local walks and attractions.

Grange-over-Sands

Morecambe Bay is an estuary with the largest expanse of inter-tidal sand and mudflats in the UK. At low tide it can be crossed on foot with careful guidance but it is notorious for its quicksand and fast moving tides.

Grange-over-Sands is a small town overlooking Morecambe Bay. It is effectively part of the west coast of England but faces seas to its east. It developed from a fishing village into a seaside resort in Victorian times with the arrival of its railway. The River Kent used to flow past its long promenade and a lido was built on the sea front in the Thirties. Now the course of the river has moved and the sand and mudflats have become a marshy grass meadow sometimes grazed by sheep. The lido closed in the Nineties.

It is now a relatively unspoiled town with easy access to the Lake District. Its large ornamental gardens had a number of resident Bar-headed Geese. You have to go over or under the railway to get to the Promenade, which still has excellent views over the bay even without a sandy beach!

Cartmel

Cartmel is a small town just two miles from Grange. It has a small racecourse and its parish church is the former Cartmel Priory. The town claims rather dubiously to be to home of sticky toffee pudding.

Muncaster Castle

Muncaster Castle is a privately owned castle near Ravenglass a little west of Grange. It is still used as a family home but the castle and grounds are open to the public. Unfortunately photography was not permitted inside.

Ravenglass Steam Railway

The Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway is a narrow gauge heritage railway running for seven miles from Ravenglass to Dalegarth station in the valley of Eskdale. It is known locally as La’al Ratty. The original line opened in 1875 to carry haematite iron ore. It carried some passenger traffic before being closed in 1913.

In 1915 it was converted to the narrow 15 inch gauge and reopened carrying passengers and granite. When threatened with closure again in 1960 it was taken over by a Railway Preservation Society. It now carries over 100 000 passengers each year.

We took the train there and back again. [Hobbit fans will understand the reference.]

Coniston Water

Coniston Water is the third largest lake in the Lake District, five miles long by half a mile wide. The Victorian artist and philosopher John Ruskin owned Brantwood House on the eastern shore of the lake, and lived in it from 1872 until his death in 1900. Arthur Ransome set his children’s novel Swallows and Amazons and its sequels (about school holiday adventures in the Thirties) around a fictional lake derived from a combination of Coniston Water and Windermere.

In the Twentieth Century Coniston Water was the scene of many attempts to break the world water speed record by Sir Malcolm Campbell and his son Donald Campbell, both in boats called Bluebird. In 1966/7 Donald Campbell attempted to exceed 300 miles per hour to retain the record but he was killed on the return leg of a record-breaking attempt.

The steam yacht Gondola is a rebuilt Victorian, steam-powered passenger vessel running trips every day on Coniston Water. Originally launched in 1859, she was built for passengers from the Furness Railway and the Coniston Railway. She was in commercial service until 1936 when she was retired, being converted to a houseboat in 1946. In 1979, by now derelict, she was given a new hull, engine, boiler and most of the superstructure. She is back in service as a passenger boat, still powered by steam and now operated by the National Trust. Gondola is one of the inspirations for Captain Flint’s houseboat in Swallows and Amazons.

From beginning of March to October there are anti-clockwise half lake cruises from Coniston pier taking place every day. We took one of these trips.

Tarn Hows

Tarn Hows is a popular tourist location with a small lake and an easy circular walk. It was rescued by Beatrix Potter and sold to the National Trust.

Elter Water Walk

Elter Water is a small lake near to Ambleside on Windermere. From here we took a walk following the river Brathay, with a small waterfall on the way, as far as Skelwith Bridge.

 

 

 

Holker Hall

This privately owned country house near Cartmel dates from the Sixteenth Century with later alterations and rebuilding. In 1871 a fire destroyed the front wing, which has been restored and is now open to the public. Stable buildings have been converted to a café and shop. The older parts are used by the owner, Lord Cavendish, and are not open to the public.

This has been difficult. I have had to delete dozens of good pictures to get down to a manageable size. I can’t fit in all my wildlife shots but I am just going to squeeze in a rabbit from Merlewood and a Robin from Holker Hall.

[As always some of my notes come from Wikipedia.]

 


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[34] As Thick as Mustard

[34] As Thick as Mustard – A Pictorial Blog about Tewkesbury

I had it all planned. I was going to walk round the city of Gloucester for a blog like the one I did for Cheltenham. I had checked the weather forecast and had my route planned. But at the last minute I decided to try Tewkesbury instead. As it was sunny I could include the riverside and the Ham. I went to Tewkesbury, walked round and took lots of pictures.

Tewkesbury

You may find the map above useful when we start our walkabout but first here are a few notes, courtesy of Wikipedia. The town of Tewkesbury, lying at the northern border of Gloucestershire, is on the complicated confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon with some minor tributaries. It dates from Saxon times and the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 was one of the decisive battles in what we now call the Wars of the Roses. It still has many old buildings with black wooden beams typical of the Elizabethan era.

The adjacent Severn Ham is an island between the two rivers, one of few remaining traditionally managed ham meadows, generally flooded in the winter

The town includes the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, commonly known as Tewkesbury Abbey, dating from the Twelfth Century.

Walk Round

I will get to my route in a minute but I concentrated on the scenic areas of the river and ham, then the older features of the town – its narrow alleys, timber-frame houses and banners. [There are over a hundred heraldic Banners of men who fought in the Battle of Tewkesbury. There will be a separate blog about them.]

I had a problem parking so my route starts outside the town to the north beyond the Mythe Waterworks at the Tewkesbury Garden Centre. I came down Mythe Road and went right on the Riverside Walk (marked on the map,) passed the lock and crossed to the Ham at its top corner. A little circuit, crossing back at the Abbey Mill, took me through the back streets to meet the High Street near to my mid-morning stop at Melanie’s for coffee and cake.

With a small diversion to the Roses Theatre I went down the High Street to the roundabout. A very short diversion up and down the beginning of Barton Street was followed by Church Street taking me to the Abbey. After the Abbey I went through Victoria Gardens and along the river again up to the Old Black Bear.

Having used their parking facilities I felt I ought to visit the Garden Centre for another coffee and cake to end my trip to Tewkesbury.

Here are the pictures

I tend to stick to the well-known comedies of Shakespeare and know virtually nothing of his histories. In Henry IV Part 2, Act 2, Scene 4, Falstaff says:

 

He a good wit? Hang him, baboon! His wit’s as thick as Tewksbury mustard;

There’s no more conceit in him than is in a mallet.

I’m not sure what it means but it’s not the people of Tewkesbury who are being insulted.

 

 


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[33] Caput Apri Defero

[33] Caput Apri Defero – A Blog about the Forest of Dean

This will be similar to [32] Slimbridge and [31] Pittville Park, my other blogs about birdwatching haunts. I will treat it as a walk round with pictures mixed from summer and winter just to confuse you. It’s slightly different because it covers a large area so I will stop at a few places.

The Forest of Dean

I will explain the first picture later but you are probably wondering who Dean was. There are several theories. It could come from ‘din’ meaning ‘hill-fort’ in either Welsh or Old English but an old reference to ‘Danubia’ suggests that it may come from early Viking (Dane) settlements.

It’s an area of about forty square miles of mixed woodland in the west of Gloucestershire roughly between the rivers Severn and Wye. Reserved for royal hunting before 1066, it’s an ancient woodland, in size second only to the New Forest as a crown forest.

Historically its main economic functions have been to do with forestry including charcoal production, iron working and coal mining. Now it acts as a nature reserve and is an area for leisure activities, especially walking and birdwatching.

There are many places within the forest where you can park and take a walk. I will concentrate on my main stops.

Woorgreens

As for many of these places you probably won’t find Woorgreens on the map. You park on a bit of cleared mud by the road through the forest, big enough for about six cars, and walk on an unmarked footpath about a quarter of a mile.

The sign is new. I came here for several years before I discovered the name from someone else. Just beyond this gate and sign you come to the lake.

You can walk round a sometimes muddy path to the right to a spot with a little beach area (for dogs to splash into the water) and closer views of the island.

[That’s another very new sign!]

The lake is a good place to spot Goosander visiting in the winter and in theory it’s a haven for Dragonflies because it has no fish. But anglers like fish. They put them there to catch them. Every few years the lake has to be emptied to remove the fish.

Cannop North

The two Cannop ‘Ponds’ and the marshy area further north are special areas for wildlife. It is a short drive from Woorgreens to the northern lake with its winding car park within the woods. (I can’t call them ponds. They are much too large. They are lakes.) I start near the car park by the bird feeder area. As well as the more common birds you may see Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Jay, Treecreeper or Reed Bunting here.

It’s a very short walk from the car park to the bridge over the water leaving this lake.

Before going round the lake I head left down into the trees and the fast flowing water. Grey Wagtail are common here and Dipper may be seen occasionally.

The lake itself is always an impressive view.

We head next up the far side of the lake.

The Mandarin Duck is now quite rare in the Far East but a growing population of feral birds in England is now almost as large. They are water birds but they nest in trees which makes the forest an ideal habitat. You may see them anywhere in the Forest but especially at Cannop.

At the far end we meet a bridge and a narrow strip of land separating the lake from the marshy nature reserve. You may find the mixture of seasons confusing but there are other changes. I think of this strip of land as a thin muddy path between two rows of trees but on my last visit trees had been cut down!

We finish the loop round back to the feeders and the car park.

Cannop South

It’s a short walk following the water or a longer drive round a circuitous route to get to the South Lake. Created in the early Nineteenth Century to feed the now disused Parkend Ironworks, this lake is now used for the stoneworks at its southern end. There is a car park here by the lake and a small lay-by also used as a car park.

The lake itself is very similar to its nearby twin but it is less used by the public. There are walks into the forest from here.

There are bird feeders within the stoneworks maintained by someone inside. You can just about guarantee seeing Siskin at any time of the year.

I don’t go far here. I just look at the water outlet down to the stream which is the River Cannop, sometimes the haunt of Dipper.

Newnham-on-Severn

My next two points to visit are not actually in the forest. They are on the Severn. Next on my schedule is usually the pleasant little town of Newnham with its clock-tower.

(The last building above is a house hat backs on to the river. It has been empty for over fifty years.)

One of my reasons for going to Newnham is the excellent George Café. It always seems to be coffee time or lunch time – I have been known to go there twice in one day.

But the river is also worth a visit. It is very tidal here.

Lydney Harbour

The road from Gloucester to Newnham follows the river and I head next further downriver to Lydney. Instead of turning right to the town of Lydney I turn left down along a mile long road – over level crossings, past lakes to a fairly desolate industrial estate and Lydney Harbour.

There are notices about redeveloping this site but at the moment you go down what looks like a private road to a car park. You can walk round the muddy locks at the harbour entrance. I have only just discovered that this is the end of the River Lyd.

You can walk (carefully!) to the end where you have an extensive panoramic view. To the north is the muddy bank of the Severn by the Yacht Club. As you turn to the east, south and west you see more of the river and the landscape behind it.

At low tide much of this is mudflats so you may see waterfowl, gulls or waders. There are also the remnants of some wrecked ships.

I do a little loop round passing a pale imitation of Stonehenge that is much more modern! The harbour at the centre of my loop is full of little boats.

Here is my attempt at a better panoramic view of the river just using cut-and-paste.

New Fancy and others …

For hundreds of years there has been free-mining of coal in the forest and there used to be some extensive mines in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, with some influence on the landscape. Not far from the Cannop Ponds is the New Fancy Viewpoint where the spoil heap from a former colliery has been turned into a hill. You can climb to the top for views of the forest all round you. It is visited by birdwatchers as an ideal point for viewing Goshawk.

There are dozens of other sites through the forest, many accessible only on foot but some with small parking areas. They have names like Boy’s Grave and Crabtree Hill and you can see more birds not often seen elsewhere – Crossbill, Hawfinch and Nightjar.

Wild Boar

The forest is also home to lots of other wildlife. You often see sheep on the roads and there are many wild boar. Generally the boar are elusive but sometimes they are fairly tame in areas where people try to feed them. They breed profusely and are regularly culled by the Forestry Commission. You can often see the damage they do to grass as in my first picture above.

Ok, I was desperate. I needed a quotation for a title. You will recognize it from the Boar’s Head Carol. At least you will if, like me, you used to sing it every year in the Sixties around the streets of Ilford.

As always, most of my information is from Wikipedia. This macaronic carol describes the very old Yuletide custom of eating a boar’s head probably predating its use as a Christmas carol. [It has always fascinated me that we have the word ‘macaronic’ for something so unusual. But it was common in mediaeval times when Latin was the language of scholars, universities and priests but songs and stories used the vernacular English. It comes from a Latin/ Italian word that is cognate with macaroni.]

The words used today were published in 1521 in one of the World’s first printed books.

The first of three verses is:

The boar’s head in hand bring I,

Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.

And I pray you, my masters, be merry

Quot estis in convivio.

Each verse is followed by the chorus

Caput apri defero

Reddens laudes Domino.

[OK, if you didn’t do Latin at school, Caput apri defero means I carry the boar’s head.]

 

 

 


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[30] Health and Education

[30] Health and Education – A Blog about Cheltenham

Cheltenham is a very old town which rose to prominence as a spa town with the discovery of its waters. You can still sample the taste at the magnificent Pittville Pump Room – but I would not recommend it! The town became fashionable with the visit of George III in 1788 and much of the central residential area reflects Regency architectural styles. I have lived here for nearly fifty years so I think of her as my home town.

Flowing through it is the River Chelt. I don’t think he town’s origins or name derive from this quite small stream. It’s probable that ‘Chelt’ is actually derived from Cheltenham.

Cheltenham has grown in the last fifty years and is now a popular shopping centre, probably most well-known through the UK for its horse racing.

I won’t say any more about my home town. [No, we are not jealous of Gloucester because it’s a city. Everything about Cheltenham is better than our near neighbour.]

After a lot of failing to get on with this blog I just took a walk around on a nice sunny day and took lots of pictures. Here they are in order.

I started on the Gloucester Road by TGI Fridays and walked along the A40, passed Dean Close Preparatory School, (formerly Dean Close Junior School,) Cheltenham Police Station, the old Gloucestershire Police Headquarters building and Westal Green to Montpelier.

I did a brief walk round Montpelier Gardens with its Art Gallery and bandstand, then went through Imperial Gardens for a look at the Town Hall. In the Promenade I saw Neptune’s Fountain and the Municipal Offices then headed towards the Regent Arcade – to see the newly restored Kit Williams clock.

Coming out on the High Street I went eastwards towards the London Road turned into Sandford Park and looped back round to take the High Street westwards.

With a coffee stop at Marks and Spencers and a diversion for the Everyman Theatre I went on past Boots corner to the brand new Brewery Quarter, then back and into the Parish Church. I wish I had done this before [41] Churches because it’s the best church I have been in this year!

Back to the Promenade for Cavendish House and the Minotaur and the Hare before heading homewards via Royal Well Road and Royal Well Lane. I walked along beside the River Chelt, paid a visit to Waitrose and took the Honeyboune line back to the Cheltenham Spa Station.

Watch out for the buildings I have noted in bold but also some of our old houses, (many in Regency style,) shops and statues. You can also spot the Queens Hotel and several views of the Cheltenham Ladies College.

I have many more pictures including some equally impressive and famous buildings but I can’t fit them all in here! You could look at [20] Remembrance, [31] Pittville Park, [41] Churches, [45] Streets, [48] Statues, [64] Cheltenham Trio and all the posts about Signs for more of my home town.

‘Health and Education’ is a loose translation of the Latin ‘Salubritas et eruditio’ on the Arms of Cheltenham. Google Translate says ‘Healthfulness and learning’ but I’m sticking to my version. Wikipedia agrees with me. I can confidently predict that a version of these arms will appear in [58] Cheltenham Signs and perhaps some explanation in [50] Heraldry.

 

 


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[36] Sgod a Sglod

[36] Sgod a Sglod – A Blog about Wales

The Royal Arms of the United Kingdom can be described as: Quarterly, 1 and 4 England, 2 Scotland, 4 Ireland. They have gone through many changes to reflect the arms of individual monarchs but basically they derive from the Fourteenth Century arms, which quartered those of England [Gules three Lions passant gardant in pale Or armed and langued Azure] and France [fleur-de-lis].

With the union, the arms of Scotland [Or a Lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory Gules] were added and those of France were removed. The quarter for Ireland [Azure a Harp Or stringed Argent] was added later. (It still represents Ireland, not Northern Ireland.) The Union Jack has a similar story with the crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew and Saint Patrick.

There is no reference to the area of Wales, which was effectively annexed in the Thirteenth Century and has been part of England, later part of the United Kingdom. The Wales and Berwick Act 1746 created a statutory definition of England as including England, Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed! It was retrospective, making explicit what had previously been implicit.

When I was young, in the Sixties, Wales was still more or less just part of England like all of its counties. I think you could buy Welsh stamps but the county of Monmouthshire had an uncertain status – since the Sixteenth Century it had been considered by some to be part of England. (Its legal inclusion in Wales was clarified by the 1972 Local Government Act, which abolished the county as an administrative area. It used to be larger than the current county of Monmouthshire.)

I have checked on Wikipedia and in 1960 we had a Cabinet Minister for Housing, Local Government and Welsh Affairs. By the mid-Sixties there were separate Ministers for Wales.

To some extent Wales has always had its own culture but in the Sixties there were few people still speaking Welsh and the versions in North Wales and South Wales were distinct. Nationalism with Devolution has developed more recently and the Welsh language has been reinvented and reintroduced. Now most signs and information leaflets use both languages.

Newport (Trefdraeth)

Pictures for this blog come from a visit for a few days in July to the small coastal town of Newport in the little house above. Not surprisingly, ‘Newport’ is a very common name for a town. I don’t mean what Wikipedia calls Newport, Wales, the one that used to be Newport, Monmouthshire and later Newport, Gwent, but is now not in any county. I mean the one that used to be Newport, Pembrokeshire and later Newport, Dyfed, but is now back to Newport, Pembrokeshire again.

It’s easier in Welsh. One of them is Casnewydd meaning ‘New Castle.’ The other one is Trefdraeth meaning ‘Beach Town.’ [Don’t worry. There won’t be a test!]

It’s a small town with streets of old houses, churches, pubs and shops.

Newport is an ancient town at the mouth of the River Nevern Afon Nyfer. The port of Parrog is about half a mile away. We were near to the river, which is very tidal, little more than mud flats at low tide.

Dinas Head

Our family used to take holidays at Newport about forty years so the area was familiar. The town has changed little since then. One of the things we used to do is to walk around Dinas Head and we did this again this year. Dinas Head (correctly Dinas Island, Ynys Dinas,) is a peninsula between Newport and Fishguard. We took the circular path anti-clockwise starting at Cwm-yr-Eglwys.

The path rises steadily to its highest point to the north. Vegetation is mostly fern, grass and gorse.

The far point, marked by a triangulation point, nearly five hundred feet above sea level, gives excellent sea views.

The next section is downhill all the way to Pwllgwaelod with its car park and pub.

We decided not to stop at the pub her and took the path back along the swampy valley that separates the ‘island’ of Dinas from the mainland. The short, easy path took us to a caravan park and then back to our car.

Pentre Ifan

We also remembered Pentre Ifan, the best preserved Neolithic dolmen in Wales, and we paid it a visit. It is just a few miles from Newport, has easy free parking and is just a short walk from the road. It may not be as impressive as Stonehenge but it wasn’t swamped by visitors.

[The name is Welsh. It doesn’t seem to have an English version and I can’t find a translation.]

Cardigan

We did pay a visit to the town of Cardigan, known as Aberteifi in Welsh, in the tidal estuary of the River Teifi and I feel the need for another diversion about the madness of local government reorganisations. But first – a few pictures.

Cardigan used to lie in the county Cardiganshire (Sir Aberteifi) at its extreme end by the border with Pembrokeshire. It used to be the commercial centre but not the county town. The old county was absorbed in Dyfed, created in 1974 by merging Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. Dyfed was abolished later, in 1996, when the three original counties were reinstated. The new county of Cardiganshire was immediately renamed Ceredigion. The name ‘Cardigan’ is of course an anglicized variation of Ceredigion, a word derived from a kingdom of that part of Wales in the Sixth and Seventh Centuries.

[I know what you are thinking. What about the knitted garment?The cardigan, made famous by Perry Como, was named after James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, a British Army Major General who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. It is modelled after the knitted wool waistcoat that British officers supposedly wore during the war.]

Teifi Marshes

We were not impressed with Cardigan and did not stay long. We went just a little upriver to the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve. We walked round, popped into the hides and had lunch at the café there.

Parrog

I took far too many pictures and have already thrown away several dozen. Here are just a few from an evening visit to Parrog, mostly the sunset as we sat outside by the sea.

Birds, Insects and Flowers

I will just squeeze in a few more pictures before ending with some bilingual musings.

Signs

You cannot fail to notice the signs in Wales.

I am not sure which of these two versions came first. I think the English one was added later, given obvious prominence by its position and the size of the letters. In more recent times everything is bilingual with Welsh coming first.

As part of the politics of devolution the Welsh language is given much more significance than it deserves. It is hard for an English speaking person to attempt to read past words in a foreign language using such strange orthography to get to the important words in English.

When I drive along westwards the M4 I often wonder how many accidents and fatalities arise from the need for politics to override Health and Safety considerations.

 

I saw the expression Sgod a Sglod on a Fish and Chip Shop so I checked on Google Translate. If you translate ‘fish and chips’ into Welsh you get ‘pysgod a sglodion,’ but it does also accept that sgod a sglod means fish and chips. Perhaps it’s a colloquial version.

 


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[37] Liquid History

[37] Liquid History – a Blog about the River Thames

The Thames is liquid history’ is attributed to John Burns, an English trade unionist and politician from the turn of the Twentieth Century. Several writers in modern times have used the expression ‘Liquid History’ in referring to the river and its archaeology.

The Thames is not quite the longest river in Britain. The Severn may beat it by a few miles. It’s certainly one of the most important and it links London to the sea.

The Thames Path

There is now a long-distance footpath, the Thames Path, opened in 1996, which more or less follows the banks of the river from its source. Our guide book goes 150 miles to Hampton Court but it continues from there through London as far as the Thames Barrier.

We have been walking this path in sections of about ten miles about once a month except in the winter. The source is not obvious but after a few miles the growing stream becomes an ever widening river. These pictures come from four sections roughly the middle third of the path described in our book, from Oxford to the outskirts of Reading.

For all of this section the river is quite wide and navigable with large meanders and a few locks. We kept close to the river for most of the time, occasionally crossing the river and skirting some small villages and towns. It’s mostly country paths some trees, fields and landscape views. We often had high reeds between the path and the river but there were lots of chances to see it.

The following pictures are in chronogical order as we moved along the path.

 

 

You will have noticed many pictures that might have been included elsewhere. There are Trees and Flowers; Birds and Insects; Landscapes, Buildings and Water; Signs and Transport.

They are all part of the River Thames.

 


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[38] I was Born for This

[38] I was Born for This – A Blog about France

At least, it’s a blog about the tiny bit of France that we visited on a short cruise. We went to Rouen then to Le Havre and from Le Havre I took a short coach trip to visit Deauville and Honfleur.

Joan of Arc

I will start with a brief introduction to one of the most famous heroines of France. You will find out why a bit later.

Joan of Arc did not come from a place called Arc. She was born in Domrémy in the northeast of France. In French she is always known as Jeanne d’Arc. She was Jeanne, spelt in medieval times as Jehanne, and her father’s surname was D’Arc. In the English language her first name has been always been Joan since the fifteenth century because that was the only English equivalent for the feminine form of John during her lifetime.

The surname of Arc is a translation of d’Arc, which itself is a nineteenth-century French approximation of her father’s name. Apostrophes were never used in Fifteenth Century French surnames, which sometimes leads to confusion between place names and other names that begin with the letter D. Based on Latin records, which do reflect a difference, her father’s name was more likely to have been Darc. Spelling was also phonetic and original records produce his surname in at least nine different forms, such as Dars, Day, Darx, Dare, Tarc, Tart or Dart. [Perhaps she was related to another hero – from Pride and Prejudice!] She also has the common nickname la Pucelle d’Orléans (“the Maid of Orléans”).

I won’t say much about her life. As a young peasant girl, she had visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine speaking to her. She left home; supported King Charles VII against the English in the Hundred Years War; was apparently important in the ending of the siege of Orléans (hence the nickname) but was captured by the English. After a trial she was burned at the stake in 1431 at the age of about nineteen. It was not until the Twentieth Century that the Roman Catholic Church finally made her a saint.

While Our Lady of the Assumption, the Virgin Mary is the patron saint of France, Joan of Arc is one of the nine secondary patron saints of France, along with Saint Denis, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Louis, Saint Michael, Saint Rémi, Saint Petronilla, Saint Radegund and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.

Rouen

Rouen is a city on the River Seine in the north of France. It is the capital of Normandy, formerly one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe. It was founded by the Gaulish tribe of Veliocasses, who named the settlement Ratumacos. The Romans called it Rotomagus, the second city of Gallia Lugdunensis, after Lugdunum (Lyon). In the Fifth Century it became the seat of a bishopric and later a capital of Merovingian Neustria.

During the Hundred Years’ War, in 1419, Rouen with a population of 70,000 surrendered to Henry V of England, who annexed Normandy once again to the Plantagenet domains. It became the capital city of English power in occupied France. When the Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster bought Joan of Arc her liberty from the Duke of Burgundy who had been keeping her in jail since May 1430, she was sent to be tried in the city during Christmas 1430. After a long trial by a church court, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake. The sentence was carried out on 30 May 1431 in the city. Note this date as we visited on 30 May 2017.

For our very short visit we were deposited by the shuttle bus near the old city and started with Rouen Cathedral (Cathédrale primatiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption de Rouen.) the see of the Archbishop of Rouen, Primate of Normandy. Our visit was quite late in the evening when the cathedral was shut but even from the outside it was impressive, starting with its pointed spire currently being restored.

With no real aim in mind we followed the narrow street from the cathedral towards the market square. The buildings still had a mediaeval look to them and we passed under an arch bearing large ornate clock faces.

We came to an insignificant church and tucked behind it was an unassuming statue of a young girl.