Traveller's tales

Monday, October 30, 2006

Perpetually painted - the Forth Bridge

Painting the Forth Rail Bridge is a full time job; by the time the painters get to the other end, it needs painting again at the other end. It is the second longest bridge in the world, with its centre span being1,710 feet long. Its overall length is 8,296 feet with ten spans of 168 feet on the south approach and five on the north. 13,00,000 rivets were used in its construction, and the central span weighs 11,571 tons.

I think the most impressive thing about the Forth Bridge, apart from all its incredible statistics is its bulk; viewed from miles away along the Forth, the mighty spans dominate the landscape; from the road bridge alongside, the sheer size of the spans draws the eye dangerously.

In the film, The Thirty Nine Steps, Kennth More leaves the train and climbs the bridge's girders to escape from the pursuing police constables and detectives. Of course, the hero, Richard Hannay gets way - the bobbies are slow and nothing like as nimbe, sure footed or desperate as Hannay.

John Buchan knew his stuff, the means of keeping the reader turning the pages - the Forth Bridge helped in the great film version with More as Hannay.
Robert L. Fielding

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hardy's Wess*x

Thomas Hardy first used the term "Wess*x" in his 1874 novel, Far From the Madding Crowd.In reprinting this story for a new edition I am reminded that it was inthe chapters of "Far From the Madding Crowd," as they appearedmonth by month in a popular magazine, that I first ventured to adopt the word "Wessex" from the pages of early English history, and giveit a fictitious significance as the existing name of the district onceincluded in that extinct kingdom. The series of novels I projected being mainly of the kind called local, they seemed to require a territorialdefinition of some sort to lend unity to their scene.--- from Hardy's Preface to the novel, 1895-1902

In the preface to 'Desperate Remedies' Hardy adds this footnote: To the foregoing note I have only to add that, in the present edition of 'Desperate Remedies,' some Wessex towns and other places that are common to the scenes of several of these stories have been called for the first time by the names under which they appear elsewhere, for the satisfaction of any reader who may care for consistency in such matters.

The place Hardy called Wess*x, and the area he used as a canvas for his works covers several English counties: Cornwall, Devon, mainly Dorset, and a little bit of Somerset and Wiltshire, and even Hampshire and Gloucestershire. King Alfred the Great ruled Wess*x, and called himself the King of the English, with his capital in Winchester. Hardy’s creation was an imaginative one, to use his own words, and did not coincide exactly with the historical entity that bore the name Wess*x.*x.html

Back in the days before the 'nanny state' did everything for us and to us, county boundaries would have had little meaning or significance to locals, other than as a name - in much the same way that borders in the Sahara Desert mean little to its inhabitants, continually following what little rain falls to feed and water their herds and themselves.

Hardy's tales made much of origin, but he kept it to the differences between town and country, city and market town, rather than between counties. Since he was obsessed with things like fate and destiny - with the way our lives seem controlled and guided by forces beyond our control - within and without, the rustics and the landowners, gentleman farmers and shepherds of his day fell foul to pretty much the same things, regardless of their geographical origins: unrequited love, coincidence, the blind hand of fate, plus all the usual failings that man is heir to; unrealistic expectations, expectations that are all too realistic, greed, avarice, and passion.

Hardy probably felt he had enough clay to fashion his characters without going too much into anything more global. His poems are awash with local names; places he would have known intimately, and he peopled these with men and women of his own design, and with himself, particularly in his poems.

In his long poem, ‘A trampwoman’s tragedy’, for instance, Hardy mentions the river Parret, which flows through Bridgewater in Somerset; the Mendip Ridges – probably in present day Gloucestershire, as well as various topographical features of the area – Wynyards Gap and Bredy Knap – places that would have most probably been well known to local people.

When Michael Henchard, later to become the mayor of Casterbridge, sells his wife, Susan, he does it at the fare at Weydon Priors – a well known spot.

With the lesser known names, it is doubtful Hardy called them anything else. However, with the more frequented spots like Dorchester, Hardy substituted his own name – Casterbridge – Castle + bridge – both prominent features of the area around Dorchester.

The novelist’s art is to use to illustrate rather than to describe accurately, and so some of his names would come from the legends and myths of the area in which he lived and wrote.
He writes of Lyonnesse "a hundred miles away" - a name not found on any modern day maps - more likely to be known in the days of King Arthur than more recently. We call that place Tintagel or thereabouts today.

He gives well known places his own names - Bridport is Port Bredy, and The Vale of The Great Dairies, the broad sweep of water meadows and river bends to the north of the county town of Dorset. Go there and you'll find everything you set out to look for: Wellbridge Manor near the village of Wool is still as impressive as it was when Angel Clare left his note under the door - missed, tragically by Tess. And there is Higher Bockhampton – Hardy’s birthplace, immortalised in his poem, 'Domicillium', and Max Gate, the house he built in his later, more prosperous days when he was a very famous man and had come to value his privacy more than he had perhaps done when he was younger.
NB. * = e in consideration to censorship. Robert L. Fielding

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Eid al Fitr 2006 trip to Musandam the hard way with Ginger and Tommy

We all got there together, we had a great time, and we all came back together, but where were you, Dom? We missed you!

Eid al Fitr 2006 trip to the Nizwa area with Harry(s)

Despite long waits at the check point, taking wrong turnings, not taking the right ones, getting stuck in the sand at the side of the road, punctures and the like, Harry Three Spot with Glasses enjoyed the trip to Oman with his wife, Harry, and their friends, Harry One Spot, Harry Two Spot, Harry, Harry and Harry.

And if you want to know what this is - this is a tick - a what? I said this is a tick!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Roosdyche - chariot racing in Derbyshire

Whether the Roosdyche, a sort of half natural, half man made stadium hidden from the public gaze on the hills above Whalley Bridge, on the A6 between Chapel en le Frith and Buxton, was ever used for Roman charioteers to practise their prowess, is difficult to say.

What is certain is that the place is difficult to find, but made slightly less so by a light fall of snow that picks out the edges and the sides of what must have been a magnificent spot back in the days before an arm of the Peak Forest Canal came into the town below, before the reservoirs were built further up the Goyt Valley, with migrating ospreys, down from the Boat of Garten on their way to the Algarve, resting on the branches of a dead tree while a hundred eager, binoculared amateur ornithologists watch avidly and quietly.

The Roosdyche would have been a popular spot with tourists of an entirely different era, resting and having some sport as they traversed this new part of their domain.

Much, much later, Rudyard Kipling wrote his famous Roman Centurion's Song, in which a centurion is called back to Rome, having spent half his life in Britain. "Command me not to go," the Centurion pleads.

The lure of the smell of bracken in the wet was great even in those times. It is still a pull on my heart strings.

Robert L. Fielding

Romans in Derbyshire

If you should wander off the footpath, and who could blame you if you did on this wild part of the Pennine Way - crossing Bleaklow Hill after the morass of KinderScout, you might stumble on the Roman road at Doctor's Gate. The 'road' consists of hundreds of yards of stone flagging, along which Romans must have marched in single file. It is perhaps not as well preserved as the one on Blackstone Edge, overlooking Rochdale, and still a couple of days' walk away for the Pennine Way walkers, but it does come as something of a relief after the squelchy, boggy terrain before and after it.

The Romans must have laid it out to save the tired legs of their legions, and to make the marching quicker - a more likely reason. The authorities charged with looking after this portion of the Pennine Way have done a similar thing from the A57 road - the Snake Pass - to Bleaklow Hill. This part of the Way is now almost completely paved, which, while probably being necessary to protect the delicate environment hereabouts, does nevertheless detract somewhat from the hardships one has to endure to complete the 270 mile walk.

Whether many Roman legions came this arduous way, I leave to the rigours of the historian, b ut one man I met told me that one night, coming off the hills, across Doctor's Gate, the hair on his dog's back suddenly stood on end as the dog froze whimpering as a ghostly legion of Roman soldiers passed them in the mist and the failing light.

Robert L. Fielding

Gold, English wallabies, and a hidden church: Gradbach Mill

If you visit the Cheshire town of Macclesfield, try to get up to the area around the Youth Hostel at Gradbach Mill. It's a beautiful area, less well known than other areas over the border in Derbyshire, but well worth a visit for all that.

The Mill itself was once a silk mill - the water wheel that powered it is still there, as is the mill race and its lodge.

Strangely enough, this whole area is home to the English species of wallaby. It seems that quitev a lot of these animals escaped from a nearby menagerie, and survived in the wilds of Cheshire. They are now listed as a British species. Many's the time a motorist has signed the pledge after seeing one in the glare of his headlamps as he headed home after last orders at The Cat and Fiddle Inn, on the hills between Macclesfield and Buxton.

Finding Lud's Chuch, a hiding place and ploace of worship for non conformists wishing to avoid persecution, is difficult. Most people come across its hidden entrance accidentally while out walking in the area.

The Cat and Fiddle Inn, incidentally, is one of the highest inns in England, at 1,690 feet above sea level, second only to the Tan Hill Inn in North Yorkshire. Its name is the subject of debate: some say it was named after Caton Le Fidele, a former Governor of Calais, others that it was named after Catherine of Aragon - Catherine Le Fidele, and still others that it comes ffrom the French, 'le chat fidele' - the faithful cat!

It is certainly a welcome sight on the dark moors above Macclesfield, and its enigmatic name adds to its many other qualities.

Gold - it is said that gold was found in these hills, but whether it can still be found is not certain. What is though is that any visitor to the area will find plenty to get interested in - the whole area abounds in things to look at and places to explore.

Robert L. Fielding

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We need safer road junctions

Isn't it about time the planning authorities started to construct safer junctions of fast highways. What usually happens is that drivers turning left have to slow down and stop and wait in a fast lane. Recently, a good friend of mine was seriously injured as a car travelling at about 120 kpm ploughed into the back of a line of five cars queuing up to turm left.

In Turkey, particularly on fast roads with blind bends, drivers have to turn right off the slow lane, go into a loop which leads to a halt sign. There they wait, off the main highway until it is safe to nip across. At juctions such as these, accidents are rare.

On motorways in the UK, drivers always leave on the slower left, even when turning right geographically. Left turns are safer in Britain - right ones abroad. It doesn't take a genius to understand the sense of that, so why do road builders make junctions that are inherently dangerous - often lethally and fatally so.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Monday, October 09, 2006

Joe Brown and Don Whillans and the face of rock climbing

Joe Brown, the youngest of seven children, was born on 26th September 1930, the son of Joseph and Mary Brown (nee Atwell). Life began in Ardwick, a working class area of Manchester.

Don Whillans (18 May 1933 - 4 August 1985) was an English rock-climber and mountaineer. Born and raised in a two-up two-down house in Salford, Lancashire, he climbed with both Joe Brown and Chris Bonington on many new routes, and was considered the technical equal of both.

Back in the days before the skilled technical art of climbing, before indoor climbing walls and the like, we used to try to emulate our two heroes; Joe Brown and Don Whillans, both from Lancashire.

Together, Joe and Don threw up first ascents on all the big crags of England, Scotland and Wales before going on to the Alps and the Himalayas. They were co-founders of the Rock and ice Climbing Club.

It was in Snowdonia, in Llanberis Pass, and on 'Cloggy' - Clogwyn dur Ardhu that the two lads made their names.

My favourite story is of the two young climbers, by that time already household names in climbing clubs and in the pubs of the Pass. They were on The Roaches, the crag that overlooks the Staffordshire moors near the market town of Leek. The day was wettish - not the best of days to do anything hard or too demanding.

Sure enough, Joe was leading up the Ordinary Route, a V.Diff well known to lads like me and my pals. A few other climbers watched as Joe and his pal did some easy climbing for a change.

Their looks of complacency turned to shock as Joe suddenly turned right under the overhang near the top of the crag and dangled like a sloth while he put in some protection before clinging to the rock above him and finally getting back into the vertical to complete the climb. The climb is called The Sloth, for reasons that are obvious, and to this day it is still a good test of a climber's strength and his nerve.

Joe and Don went on to much greater things together, but this feat was a good display of what the two could do - even on a wet day when everyone else had put their boots away.

They were both characters too. Don Whillans was once asked when he stopped drinking in training for a big climb. "After I pass the last pub!" was his reply.
Robert Leslie Fielding

Rudyard Kipling - his origins and his legacy

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (December 30, 1865 – January 18, 1936) was a British author and poet, born in India. He is best known for the children's story The Jungle Book (1894), the Indian spy novel Kim (1901), the poems "Gunga Din" (1892), "If— " (1895), and his many short stories.

His parents are said to have met at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England, hence Kipling's name.

Kipling has been accused of a sort of literary jingoism, of condoning the excesses of Britain's colonial past, particulalry in India.

Orwell, in an introduction to a volume of Kipling's poetry, stated that this was based upon a misreading of Kipling. That rather than glorify what was done under the auspices of the Empress of India, Kipling merely acted as a sort of witness to it, adding flavour to a dish that had already been served.

The Ballad of Boh da Thone illustrates this point. While it is true that his portrayal of Captain O'Neil of the Black Tyrone, and his men pursuing the Boh, was entirely complimentary and somewhat cavalier in style (..'they went to their deaths with a smile on their lips'), he uses coincidence and irony to underscore the men's success in their pursuit of the infamous blackguard.

Attacking a wagon carrying an unassuming official by the name of Mukerjee, the Boh falls foul of Mukerjee's great girth as he lands on top of the Boh in the fracas that ensues..

A reward is claimed, by sending the head of the Boh, wrapped up and posted in a teak box. This is surely Kipling at his adventuresome best, showing the indigenous population as normal folk going about their business in a country ostensibly policed, organised and run by the British, while in fact, life went on pretty much as it would have done had they not been there.

The function of the artist is not to mirror nature, but to embelish it and bring to the reader''s notice certain things he might otherwise miss. I should say that was the function of the artist. Kipling fulfilled that function at that point in Britain's history.
Robert Leslie Fielding

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