United Kingdom

Gormley Statues

Last week, when we went to see Evita (which didn't live up to the hype for us - it's now closed) we saw the Gormley statues in the area of the Hayward's Gallery Anthony Gormley Statues

These are dotted about on the rooftops, on both banks of the Thames. It's a little creepy, and I'm sure that they must have asked permission of the police (lots of phone calls from people who've only seen the one about attempted suicides!)

On the way home from the Blue Man Group I spotted another statue on Waterloo Bridge, standing on the pavement.

Anthony Gormley statue on Waterloo Bridge

I know it's not a big deal for people who see it all the time (e.g. Da Wife) - but I thought it was quite cool, so took a photo - which I present here for your amusement.

Birmingham

After watching the D on Friday, we thought it'd be a wasted opportunity if we didn't spend a little time looking at the old stomping grounds. Birmingham has always been a good, if under-rated city (lots of people only know it by the view from the M6) - it's now a great city. We left Birmingham 12 years ago, I've only been back for brief visits, and not at all in the last 8 years or so. It's totally changed. The city centre, in particular, the Bull Ring, has been completely rebuilt and they've made a fantastic job. The vision involved is impressive.

Selfridges in Birmingham It was so different at first, that it was hard to orient ourselves - the area near the new Selfridges was so different!

It wasn't long before we were walking around reasonably confidently, but every so often something wasn't quite as we remembered it, which provoked mild confusion.

The area around Victoria Square was particularly well used, there was a German Christmas Market, with a free gift wrapping service, various German delicacies to try out, drinks both hot and cold, mulled wine, and little crafty nick-nacks for sale.

On the whole, Birmingham is the first place I've seen in a while that felt, well, festive - much more so than London, or the towns near where I live.

It's got a great deal to offer.

We ate at the hotel that evening, we stayed at the Campanile - the hotel was reasonable, but eating at their restaurant was a mistake. The food, though reasonable, was disappointing - starting with us having to send the bread rolls back as they were stale. At the end of the evening we watched the 'chef' carefully put the buffet under clingfilm, presumably to serve up again the next day. It did make us wonder about what we'd just eaten - how long had it been there?

On sunday, we had a look around our old university, driving up Milner Road where we used to live (the old house looks smaller than I remember). The University was deserted, which is a shame as we couldn't go into the Guild. We drove around, then parked up and walked in past the Muirhead tower (not under it... that was sealed off - that building has always been a problem). We turned to go toward Biology, then back toward the guild past Physics.

Old Joe

The place felt so familiar, at the same time it was just the same and it had big differences. As an example, the area near the station had been remodelled, and part of the physics building had become the Nuffield Education Centre).

It was just weird - though it felt like home, it also felt like it was a lifetime away - so distant. It was a really odd sensation for both of us.

We went up to the vale, to find what we know as Mason hall surrounded by fences, and apparently in the midst of at least partial demolition. What we know as High and Ridge had been merged (and renamed) and also extended again. They'll need to be careful not to encroach too much upon the green space of the Vale.

Lake (my old hall) and Wyddrington were pretty much the same (although, not known by those names). The self catering flats had been extended quite substantially - and with nice designs.

Birmingham is a fantastic city, and we were sorry to have to put it behind us and head home.

Visited Countries

I've updated my visted countries maps, and they look like this (with Germany and Austria being only fleeting):

County map
I've visited the counties in yellow.
Which counties have you visited?

made by marnanel
map reproduced from Ordnance Survey map data
by permission of the Ordnance Survey.
© Crown copyright 2001.

On the UK map, much is to be taken with a pinch of salt, it's very easy to go between UK counties! I've only been to Scotland once, and that was fleeting. I've been to most counties in Wales (if not all), but am making best guess, and I really can't recall the southwest of Wales, the rest is on a 'best guess' basis. The nearer to London, the more sure I can be of the counties actually visited. I tried to tick only for actually setting for in the counties, rather than setting wheel - so I can't be sure of Rutland, and can't recall going to Norfolk at all (though I think I was taken to the Broads once, I have no memory of it).

EU map
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US map
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World Map
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GPS and Michelangelo

Yesterday I acquired a GPS from Amazon, and I decided to go into London. I wanted to see the Michelangelo exhibition, and test the GPS at the same time. I walked around home a bit to check all was well, and then I headed off for the train. Unfortunately there is no way to get the GPS signals in the train, and so as soon as I left Waterloo station I switched the thing on and found my satellites.

I started to walk.

It's rather magical really, a moving display of where you are. My GPS is quite a basic unit (I don't want, or need, the full screen maps as I'm moving - it's a supplement, not a replacement - and besides, that would have made it much more expensive!). On the resulting tracklog there are a few places where the signal was lost and so when plotting the software made approximations, so there is the odd corner cut off and so forth (I was walking in London, remember - tall buildings everywhere, it's amazing, I think, that the log is so good!)

First GPS trial map

I walked up to the London Eye, and then to Trafalgar square, and on up Charing Cross Road to the British Museum.

I tend to go to the British Museum a few times each year, and so I decided today to become a friend of the museum, and I joined them.

I got a Michelangelo exhibition for just before 5pm.

During the day I went around the museum and did some sketching - some reasonable, some not - none what one might see as 'good' on an objective scale, but I enjoy it. I drew Parvati, the consort of Shiva, a drew one of the Parthenon sculptures, 'a blind contour' drawing of a Cypriot chappy, and a 'straight' drawing of him. These should appear on flickr when I get a round tuit. I also did a bit of peoplewatching - I'm not as happy with the sketches that resulted as I was last time I did this, everybody kept moving - it was a conspiracy!

The Michelangelo exhibition was pretty good - some of the drawings are incredible, they're so detailed and he makes them look so effortless. I found that even close up, when you can see the individual pencil marks, each one was just right. The place was absolutely packed though - the British museum do a timed entry system to minimise the crowding, but it's still quite busy. I'd guess a very early ticket would be best.

On the way back, I walked down Shaftesbury avenue, Haymarket and across Westminster Bridge.

This data was put onto a map using OziExplorer, which also outputs data in a Google Earth friendly manner.

Open House

Monica and The WriterToday we spent some time in London. We started with a trip to Hampstead Heath in order to see "The Writer" This is on Parliament Hill (actually, it is to the side of the hill) and it is a gigantic table and chairs. Very simple, but I liked it a lot.

We walked from there to Archway tube station going past Highgate cemetary. We took the tube over to Bank with a view to going into the Lloyds building. We were a little too late to go into the building which was open to the public as part of the 'Open House' weekend, where normally inaccessible buildings are available to view.

Bicycles in Westminster PalaceFrom there we went to the Palace of Westminster, where we gained access to Westminster Hall, Portcullis House, and the Bicycle Rack of the House of Commons Bike Club. We also got to see Big Ben from a novel angle. This access was due to OpenHouse.

Alison Lapper and NelsonFrom here we walked to Trafalgar Square and saw the latest addition to the square, the Alison Lapper statue, this was unveiled two days ago. It will be there until April 2007.

More Hurst Castle Photos

Lighthouse near Hurst CastleI've uploaded and tagged the rest of my Hurst Castle pictures. Keyhaven is a small town just south of the New Forest. There is a spit which reaches out into the Solent, toward the Isle of Wight. At the end of the Spit the Tudors built Hurst Castle. There is also a Lighthouse.

The Victorians later reinforced the castle as a defensive measure against the French. The castle was also used to guard the Solent during the second world war.

Do feel free to browse the pictures and comment on them!

Hurst Castle

Hurst CastleToday we drove down to a place on the Solent called Keyhaven. Keyhaven is a small place, but is absolutely wonderful. It's at the west end of the Solent and there is a spit which goes out almost half the way to the Isle of Wight. At the end of the spit is Hurst Castle, which was built by Henry VIII and modernised in the 19th century. It was part of our defences in WW2.

More photos will appear on Flickr soon (but not today).

The above image was made from three seperate images using a nice program called autostitch.

In London again

Millennium DomeI had a slightly late start yesterday, I missed the train which I'd intended to get and this meant I was too late to see off the 'Backing Blair' van. Still, I did see the Dome, and this is an incredibly depressing site. After this I went to the tube station and bought a drink. I saw the london papers which were next to the till and they were proclaiming that Blair had seen the Queen to dissolve parliament. Given that this was half past 11, I suspect that the newspaper editor was making an educated guess and got lucky.

I then went up to Trafalgar Square, and coming out of Charing Cross Tube I almost walked into Eamon Holmes and Natasha Kaplinsky near St. Martins in the Fields. They were wearing formal gear, Eamon is a bigger chap than I remember, but then I only glance at Breakfast TV in the mornings, so haven't seen him properly for a while. I tend to listen to Today.

Trafalgar Square FountainsSome loud bangs scared the pigeons.Big Ben from Trafalgar SquareIn Trafalgar Square I took a few pictures, there was a series of loud bangs which seemed to occur whenever pigeons stopped panicking. This could have been a bird control method, or it could have been the workmen outside the National Gallery having a bit of a laugh.

The Natural History MuseumArchitectural Detail in the Natural History Museum.Animatronic VelociraptorsAfter taking my fill of Trafalgar Square, I decided to go up to the Natural History Museum, so took the tube to South Kensington. There is a long subway which goes from the tube to the museums, and this exits right next to the Natural History Museum, which is a truly impressive structure. The architecture has all sorts of detail which makes the building itself a pleasure. One of the first things I did in the museum was to see the dinosaur exhibit. They have animated velociraptors and a T Rex, both are quite realistic and would un-nerve a nervous child - and would exhilerate many. I took two (grainy and silent) videos, one to show the velociraptors, and one the T Rex.

Blue WhaleThe World ExhibitThe other thing which I had to do was visit the life-sized Blue Whale model. I remember visiting the museum as a child and this was something which stayed with me. The giraffes and elephants are completely dwarfed by this model.

Wire Mesh Klein SurfaceHyperbolic ParaboloidNapier's BonesClock of the Long NowI then went along to the Science Museum. The main hall of the Science museum is having a refit, but there is still plenty to see. I liked the smaller, more elegant things, like the mathematical surfaces such as Klein bottles. I was particular pleased to see a demonstration set of Napier's Bones - the main reason I was pleased is that I beat a teen on a nokia calculator to an answer...

They had a prototype of the Clock of the Long Now. There was an American woman there, of about my age, looking at this prototype. She obviously couldn't read as her boyfriend had to explain it to her. Having explained the concept that it would be a clock which would run for 10000 years as a testament to our 'civilisation' and as a reminder that we need to take a long term view of the planet, her response (in an incredibly whiney voice) was 'what's the point of that then, we'll all be dead in 10000 years'. She thereby completely missed the point of building something designed to outlast the pyramids, more than this, building a working mechanism designed to last that long.

Monica stands on a bridge of her own constructionMonica joined me in the Science Museum, and we had a look around for a bit, but it wasn't long before we headed back. We stopped at Westminster and saw lots of reporters on the grass near parliament, mostly they were packing up.

It was almost as if someone had just called an election.

London Tourism

I almost didn't go into London today due to the overcast weather, but I was glad I did - I got a lot done. I travelled up on the train a little later than I'd hoped, arriving in London nearer noon than 10am. As soon as I got into Waterloo I hopped on the tube.

The Staircase in the MonumentThe Lloyds Building and the GherkinTower BridgeMy first stop was 'Monument', where for the princely sum of 2 pounds one can climb the monument which was erected to commemorate the Great Fire. The views, to be honest, are modest, but there are nice views of Tower Bridge and the Gherkin, for two quid the views are worthwhile.

The Tower of LondonSculpture near the Design MuseumFrom monument I jumped back on the tube and got off at Tower Hill. I then walked pas the old roman wall, around the Tower of London, over Tower Bridge and east along the South Bank, at one point taking a flight of stairs down to the water's edge, which was quite a novelty. I went into the shop of the Design museum, there I bought a Moleskine reporters notebook, which I'm very pleased with.

Shad ThamesWire ScupltureThe Council ChamberI walked back along Shad Thames (a stupidly named but quite pleasant road), and then on a whim went into City Hall. This is a very interestingly constructed building, but unfortunately one cannot get higher up than the council chamber itself, and it is quite difficult to get a decent photo of the ramp which continues above the council chamber.

The Roof of the British MuseumA plundered Easter Island statueFrom the City Hall I went to London Bridge tube station and made my way over toward Tottenham Court Road. From here I went down Great Russell Street to the British Museum.

Elgin MarblesThe Lid of a Sarcophagus at the British MuseumClockworkGranite SphinxThis was my first visit to the British Museum, and I was very impressed. The structure of the building is wonderful, and the glass ceiling is inspiring. The collection is very complete, and this left me with a very strange feeling - it felt almost too complete, it represented a large number of sites which had been picked apart for choice artefacts. I accept that artefacts will go to museums all over the world, and that without this then many people wouldn't have a chance to see certain cultures - I also recognise that this is a neccesary part of conservation (imagine what would be lost if one site had a catastrophe and artefacts were not distributed). That said, the British Museum had so much stuff it left me with a very weird feeling.

Big Ben and the London EyeMe at the Palace of WestminsterThe Jewel TowerFrom the British Museum I made my way down to Westminster, where I walked around the cloisters of the Cathedral (one enters these to the right of the main entrance via an arch which has a small barrier across). I also walked past the Jewel Tower to the small park south of the Palace of Westminster, this is where the politicians give their interviews. None were doing this when I was there.

BBC Election BusBBC Election BusThe BBC had parked an 'election 2005' bus opposite the Palace of Westminster. They'll be gutted if Tony Blair doesn't declare the election tomorrow after painting their bus so nicely (for the record, I don't think he will wait).

CloistersI then walked around Westminster Abbey and found the cloisters behind the abbey, this was very peaceful and made a nice contrast to the bustle of central London.

GuardMe at Buckingham PalaceMemorial to the Indian, African and Caribbean soldiers who fought in the World WarsMemorial to the Indian, African and Caribbean soldiers who fought in the world wars.From here it was back onto the Tube, only a short hop to St. James' park, I walked up to Buckingham Palace, stopping at the Queen Victoria Memorial, then walked up Constitution Hill toward Wellington Arch, diverting to the Canadian War Memorial and the Memorial for people from places such as India, Pakistan etc. who fought in the Wars.

Wellington ArchAustralian War memorialAustralian War MemorialAt Wellington Arch I went to look at the Australian Memorial. This is not a memorial you want to stare if prone to seasickness, as from a distance it has large place names indicating major battles in the wars. As one gets closer one sees that the memorial is covered with small placenames. These are placenames of the hometowns of Australian Soldiers who fought in the wars. These smaller placenames are made bold in certain spots to make the battlefield names. The small writing and large writing make a smooth transition from one to the other as one approaches, and at some distance I found it hard to focus on one or the other.

ErosDiving onto the tube again, I got off at Picadilly Circus where I looked at Eros (illuminated from behind by a garish, but technologically impressive moving cocacola advert). I then walked along Shaftsbury Avenue.

Something caught my eye along Wardour Street, I forget what now, so I wandered along there not really looking where I was going and I walked into someone. The man muttered 'Oh sorry', and was on his way. I was momentarily struck dumb, for this was Patrick Stewart, thespian extraordinaire and also a Captain in Starfleet. I sade something inane like 'Fancy bumping into you here', but he was already off and walking, acknowledging me with a wave. The man had a show to go to, I had just past his theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue and he was obviously heading for the performance. It's a shame that it was a fleeting encounter and I have no evidence of it, but the man must get bugged a lot, and I didn't want to add to this.

On the train homeGetting back onto Shaftesbury Avenue I continued to the Charing Cross Road (Les Miserables has moved) then walked up to Centrepoint and to the Starbucks on New Oxford Street (where has Forbidden Planet gone?) It was here that I met up with the wife, who had been working all day. After some refreshments we went to Waterloo and came home.

Tower Bridge

View atop Tower Bridge (east side of south tower)Today we spent some time in London. We did a few things including climbing Tower Bridge (something neither of us had done before), walking along the south bank of the Thames and visiting the Tate Modern. In the Tate Modern we went up to the seventh floor to the bar there, I had some wine overlooking the Thames and Monica had a coffee. We then wondered the gallery for a bit, there was some good stuff there but there was a lot that made me wonder why they gave it wallspace...

Danebury

Yesterday we went for a small excursion. We headed toward West and ended first stopped at Flowerdown Barrow. This was hard to find - there isn't much there! Sketch at DaneburyFrom here, we went northwest and visited Danebury Hill Fort, I made a quick sketch of the view in the trusty moleskine. The figure on the left is Monica wearing her favourite silly hat - it was cold!

Photo of DaneburyDanebury is an Iron Age hill settlement. It's a local high point, and hence defensible.

Monica was quite keen to go to Danebury, as her PhD was looking at ancient seeds recovered from this site. The seeds had been charred in a granary fire, the granary was simply a deep hole, and then covered over.

A cow at DaneburyAt the top, sheep are grazed, and cattle are grazed on the slopes. The breeds chosen for this are not common ones - the cows were particularly fluffy.

Hereford and Back

Those of you paying attention may have noticed that the site was spammed in the last couple of days and I've only just cleaned it up. This delay is due to the fact that Monica and I have been away for a couple of days. View from Hotel

We went to stay in a place near Hereford. The hotel was the Pengethley Manor hotel near Ross-On-Wye

It's a nice place, set in the countryside. Admittedly the weather was a bit miserable at times, but we were lucky in that it cleared for us when it mattered.

We arrived at the hotel on Thursday, and ate there. The bar was quite cosy, we started with the wine produced on site (the hotel has a vineyard), and it was very good indeed. The food was excellent (though a bit on the dear side). I had Mussels in a White Wine sauce, and Monica has a Sea Bass. Beautifully prepared, well served.

The next morning we had a large breakfast - the plan is not to have to eat during the day. The cooked breakfast was reasonable, but not great - should've stuck with the porridge with whisky!

Eventually we set out, and aimed for Hereford. Parking was pretty easy, we parked near the cathedral, just over the river (near a leisure centre). The river stunk a bit - country smells. Probably water washed off farmland.

Inside the Cathedral they have the 'Mappa Mundi'. This is a large map which was drawn on Vellum. It's a good four or five feet across. It is meant to show the a religious representation of the known world, so Jerusalem is near the centre of the map. The map has east at the top, and though many features are present, there is quite a lack of geographical accuracy. I would have expected shapes to be wrong, but some quite large topographical details were wrong, for example, Spain was seperated from France by the Meditteranean, and there was a river dividing England from Scotland. I can appreciate the difficulties of producing a world map at this time, and mistakes are bound to be made - but these are rather fundamental!

Hereford Cathedral

Facsimile of the Mappa Mundi

This is a section of the Mappa Mundi which shows the UK, Ireland, and parts of Northern Europe. East is at the top of the map.

There was a jobsworth in the museum who did not allow photography, so I only have photos of modern facsimiles of the map (taken before he saw me). I don't understand the photography ban, I really don't. Flash photography, I understand - especially when you have light sensitive documents - but a ban on any photograph in areas where light sensitive things are not present, I don't understand.

The actual map is quite dark, and kept in a room of its own with a guide next to it the whole time who is able to talk about the map in great depth.

Passing through the room with the Mappa Mundi we came to a chained library. All very nice (though I have seen these quite often). What really impressed me was that in the room there was a copy of the Magna Carta. It was from the 1217 reissue by Henry III, and there are only 3 other copies, all held at Oxford.

What I found frankly amazing about this single sheet is that here we have one of the most important documents in English Legal History, and not only was there no indication it was there (all the signs pointing to the Cathedral reference the Mappa Mundi), but it was also misleadingly labelled in the case (there was a glossy manuscript book to its right, and the Magna Carta labels were near that).

Not once did we see a sign saying: 'Hereford Cathedral: Mappa Mundi (oh, and we've got the Magna Carta, too).

Arthur's Stone

Arthur's Stone

We then headed west to find something called 'Arthur's Stone'. This was an ancient tomb dating from 3700BC to 2700BC. The 'chambered tombs' were used to bury the neolithic dead. They were used over many generations. Arthur's stone was once covered by a mound of earth which has largely been eroded away over time. The stone roof of the tomb has collapsed. According to legend, the stone marks the sport of one of King Arthur's battles - however the stone has been at the site since long before the time that Arthur is supposed to have been around.

After visiting the stone we drove down through Monmouth to try and see some standing stones. Unfortunately the ones we picked seemed to be on private land, so we headed back to the hotel as it was getting on a bit.

In the evening, in the rain, we went for a meal in Ross-On-Wye. We parked outside the Wetherspoons pub and had a wander round in the pouring rain before deciding to go into the Wetherspoons for some food. It was quite a smokey pub and we felt uncomfortable, there were lots of unpleasant stares. We decided that we did not want to stay there and ended up down the road in the 'China Boy Jo' restaurant. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Downstairs they had a takeaway section, but we were ferried upstairs as soon as we opened the door. We found quite a nice area, and we were treated very well indeed. The food was excellent.

The Cherhill Horse

The next day we headed home, and we decided to visit some more ancient monuments on the way. We joined the M5, headed south, connected to the M4, and then left the M4 to go through Cherhill.

The Cherhill white horse, like many such monuments, doesn't really count as 'ancient'. It was cut by Dr. Alsop of Calne in 1780. Or rather, it was cut under his direction, he called instructions from the main road using a megaphone.


Silbury HillMonica at AveburyMonica at AveburyMe at AveburyMonica views the stone circleA view of part of the Avebury Stone Circle

We soon found our way to Avebury, which is a World Heritage Site.

Outside Avebury is a large ancient Earthwork called Silbury Hill. It is 40metres high (130ft) and is the only surviving unaltered exampled of its type. Its original purpose is unknown.

The village of Avebury is actually build inside a giant stone circle. What idiot decided to build the first house in the circle, I don't know. However, that is what we've got now. One can walk around it quite easily (though in some places it can be a bit steep).

Avebury is a very impressive site, though it would be more impressive if someone a few hundred years ago had decided to put the village next to the circle.

From Avebury, we did consider going to see some more white horses, but we decided to get down to Stonehenge before the light failed us.

Stonehenge is a 5000 year old monument on Salisbury plain, the only one of its kind in the world. At the moment it is on the fork of two roads, within a decade this situation will change as they plan to put the main road into a tunnel to cut the traffic noise, and to move the visitor centre two miles away.

The henge is truly impressive, as a feat of engineering if nothing else. The place was fairly busy, as might be expected, but I still was able to get quite a large number of reasonably people free photos.

Part of StonehengeAnother view of a part of StonehengeMe at stonehengeA distant view of StonehengeSunset at StonehengeSunset at stonehenge 2Silhouette of Stonehenge

If you visit stonehenge then I recommend that you use the free audio guide, even though the last bit of that annoyed me greatly. (It is not forever a mystery why one type of rock feels warmer than another, it is to do with differing thermal conductivity. Carpet feels warmer than tiled floor for the same reason.)

Right to Roam

The first Right to Roam maps are published today. These detail where the public can walk in the UK. The maps will not include cultivated land, e.g. gardens, it will include 'open country' or 'common land'. Historically, some of these areas were kept out of bounds by landowners.

The first maps include the south east and the area around the peak district.

There is some 'excepted' land, which is not included, and people should be familiar with this if they use the maps. Also, the maps are not in and of themselves walking maps.

The maps are published by the Countryside Agency.

London

Yesterday I went into London for a morning conference and then to do a little shopping. When I went I took my camera with me, and so I thought it would be nice to put a couple of the photos online. Big BenThe London EyeThese photographs were taken in the morning (I was on the way to a conference). It was a cold and crisp morning. I went up to Oxford Street later on, also Regent St (visiting Hamleys). Though the illuminations were pretty they would not have photographed terribly well from street level.

If you intend to visit London, the London Eye is well worth a trip. It's very smooth and the capsules are enclosed, so it feels perfectly safe. Do visit the toilet before going on board though, it's a 30 minute trip! The Eye is the tallest thing around, it was very impressive to see it winched up when it was erected.

A hint for visitors, in busy periods (e.g. summer) go into County Hall (next to the Eye) and buy a ticket for later in the day. Go away and do something else. The tickets all have are all time coded, and buying one for immediate travel can mean that you have a long wait which is not long enough to do something else. Also buying an advance ticket means you go to a different ticket desk and the queue is usually shorter here (in the summer, the queue for immediate travel snakes round outside). It is possible to book online too (they call it a 'flight').

Hot Air Balloon

When we got married, we got given a voucher for a Hot Air Balloon ride. This was a voucher for one, so I've just splashed out and bought a second ticket, and we're going in two weeks time (when Monica has returned from Kolkata).

Yes, it's a little extravagent, but we've always wanted to have a go at this, and we don't do this sort of thing often, so why not?

I'll put up details after the trip.