Visits the AI: More than Human exhibit, London

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““The real question is, when will we draft an artificial intelligence bill of rights? What will that consist of? And who will get to decide that?”

Gray Scott

I had always been under the somewhat false impression the concept of Artificial Intelligence was a relatively modern construct. Certainly, an argument could be made the motion only really entered the cultural zeitgeist in the last two or three decades or so with the development and progression of PC architecture and technological advancement leading towards a drive for miniaturization and a trajectory of human emulation. Indeed my preconception on the subject was an attempt to emulate the human condition in its most complex state, the personality, the undefinable element of our subconscious most commonly associated in theological terms as the spark of life, indeed perhaps the human soul itself. To my astonishment, a reflection of my own ignorance of the matter, the concept of Artificial Intelligence and man’s attempt to IMG_3255replicate our own personality in the static world around us can trace its roots back historically far beyond that I had presumed. As part of its latest temporary exhibits running until the 26th August the Barbican Centre is presenting a fascinating exhibit on the history and presentation of Artificial Intelligence from its earliest conception and societal use to the present day and charting a path into the future as the world around us adopts to utilise this revelatory technology and methodology in our growth and development. From food source and preparation, medical treatment and use, exploration of distant worlds, the discovery of hostile environments in our own world the scope and potential for the use of Artificial Intelligence is limitless. Presented as a linear exhibition charting the course of AI development over human history before expanding into workshops and creative spaces, the exhibit itself makes a good use of the basement and ground floor of the Barbican Centre culminating in a sensory light show and space that was remarkable to stand within and witness.

The Barbican Centre, designed in the brutalist style was a curious location to host an exhibit of this type, as a concept more suited perhaps to the Science Museum given the nature of the material. Indeed as you arrive, walking amongst the vast and imposing concrete towers and residence of the Barbican estate you mind is drawn to an era of Britain’s past given its design, a very isolated and solitary experience before the centre comes into view. Despite a contentious appearance, voted on numerous occasion as one of the ugliest buildings on the London skyline, I’ve always enjoyed walking through the estate on a clear day, given its location avoiding some of the congestion and energy of thebarbican exterior City but only a short distance away, sitting at the rear of the centre next to its more impressive water features you do find yourself experiencing a moment of tranquility amongst the imposing structures around you. Aesthetically, there’s a somewhat dystopian comfort about the design of the buildings, the brutalist architecture has never been one i’ve found especially appeasing but given the space between buildings and the use of water and nature there is a degree of human familiarity about the Barbican estate. A random tangent perhaps on a discussion around AI but as a location it has continued to evolve and change to suit its human residents, structural changes opening up areas once inaccessible through additions to the walkways and passages. Of course such deliberation I’d imagine wasn’t a consideration in bringing the exhibit to the Barbican Centre,  but as an aside I just find it fascinating to see the parallels in the concept and the location.

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I ventured into the main exhibition hall unsure what to expect, what direction it would take, whether it would be a technical exercise simplified for a mass audience or a more broad presentation. Subjectively, I would probably observe its the latter, a showcase of a variety of subject matters told in a linear fashion from the earliest inception to the future direction of AI. There is a broad range of activities and information to consume with displays suited both to adults and children which was a welcome touch but not overtly simplified to cater for everyone at the expense of paying guests. It begins with the earliest concept of Artificial Intelligence, the concept of the Golem, the inanimate object brought to life through mystical means, the genesis of life created by man before moving IMG_3263on and covering more of the representation through out history from the personification of death masks to the crude representation of robotics in cinema and popular media. As a starting point and foundation it was a curious one to begin with, opting away from the preconceived notion of a technological notion and instead focusing on the historical roots. Quite honestly I could have enjoyed the pivot towards this direction for a lot longer than was assigned but what we consider and understand by Artificial Intelligence in the cultural zeitgeist of the last decade or so is the advancement of robotics and devices in the home environment. To progress from the clay golem to an Alexa in short order does require swift progress and as such the next step on the exhibition was the introduction and development of computers from their use in the great wars and into the civilian sector. I’d presumed there would be some showcase around the enigma decoding machine as depicted in The Imitation Game, happily IMG_3276satisfied however equally the more personal smaller exhibits, one of which was the mouse in the maze, a simplified process of an intelligence attempting to follow the route of the maze to its conclusion. No clear path perhaps of progression but just a general assortment of exhibitions designed to showcase the progression of simple inputs to a deeper state of awareness. At times it felt more of a showcase of hardware, suited perhaps for the Science Museum with an assortment array of robotics as an evolution of the computer design process, from the earliest prototypes to more recognisable designs and iterations, certainly in my lifetime and awareness. Purely from having written considerably over the last year around gaming culture and its societal impact it was fascinating to view the Sony AIBO units on display. Presumably there was more than one version or unit produced given the relative obscurity of the exhibit in London and having them available. Still it was an enjoyable use of ‘AI’ in one iteration designed around a recognisable structure, in this case a puppy with the means to learn and adapt to its environment based on recognising a particular range of inputs IMG_3281and reacting accordingly. If I had to speculate around the perception of AI coming into this exhibit which is an entirely subjective matter it would be as a concept at its end goal state, the construction of sentience, robotic or artificial life that is self aware and responsive able to formulate decisions based on environmental stimuli. In its simplest function, these units on display demonstrate certain aspects of that behavior, designed to react to specific stimuli through motion and sound sensors but whether they exhibit the qualities associated to sentience, I’d argue we aren’t at that stage quite yet. I do find it interesting to note however that robotics and the development of Artificial Intelligence has purposefully taken on a humanistic indeed recognisable form to allow the associated benefits of forming trust through association with a reticent audience. One of the highlights towards the end of the main exhibit was a robotic humanoid unit that had been designed to simulate basic movements, and the IMG_3319cheer joy and reception to a visiting audience. If you’ve ever imagined a future with robotic life reacting to stimuli and interacting in to the user, certainly the exhibit provided a brief glimpse of a possible future with articulated robotic ‘life’ constructed to resemble us superficially, for now but designed very much around the human construct, a plethora of sensors be they sound, motion, visual able to recognise on a fundamental level and produce an output. As mentioned, it was fascinating to watch a room full of people interacting with this robotic being, waving and mimicking the movements, for all the horror stories and nightmares portrayed by the media of a dystopian future driven by robotics, when they are constructed and formed around the recognisable we can adapt and find joy, whether there is a cost to this acceptance is a discussion for a later date.

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I found the exhibits focus on robotics an informative matter, a recount of the history of societies attempt to recreate itself, indeed shape the world around us in our own image, a separate discussion for a later date around our own hubris. Of equal measure, the impact on Artificial Intelligence and the more refined impact on the outside world from news headlines and articles and how learned data algorithms can shape the news to a specific targeted audience based on learned input and observation to the use in the medical and agricultural world. Certainly in the last year as a society we have become somewhat aware of the impact on AI in our day to day lives depending of course how much you embrace popular culture, from the targeted aspect of Facebook advertising for example based on your viewing history tailoring specific adverts to your timeline. To the IMG_3311more dubious threat of mobile networks and infrastructure, the current ‘threat’ of Huawei to the national security of the United Kingdom, the actions of a hostile foreign agent or the push for increased digital integration. I’d imagine its easy to underestimate the impact of AI on society given our reliance but lack of understanding on a great many devices we own and use in our daily lives. The push to utilise and develop AI for use in branching industries is fascinating to discover and learn, the medical industry for example using machinery and process to develop and craft missing or replaceable body parts such as ears and nose to a level of detail and authenticity remarkable to witness, and if I’m honest somewhat unnerving to see what was once in the domain of science fiction there before me, certainly given a little panache with the display but still remarkable. Beyond the direct impact on medical industry there was a fascinating revelation as part of the exhibit IMG_3339which was the use of AI and design to assist the construction of artificial hives for bees, not in the traditional sense of how we understand bee hives to be but actually a means and ability now to replicate to a finer details the natural aesthetic of the beehive, human design ingenuity attempting to recreate life in its own image not of our own design. Away from these specific exhibits there were a number of more interactive stations. These ranged from a fascinating lego themed project called Kreyon City developed by Sony which uses the brightly coloured bricks and cameras in an interactive project to watch its audience build up an artificial city structure, ostensibly around fulfilling certain ‘gaming’ subject matters practises such as balancing education, employment and green spaces for example but also from a wider perspective how we react to stimulus and adapt our construction plans. Help was on hand from an informed staff to guide you around your dreams of becoming a metropolis tycoon however you couldn’t help but wonder how you ‘scored’ compared to the more rational objective AI designed city scape. Another IMG_3326interesting exhibit was an aforementioned news generation station allowing you to test how you react and control online media statements and comments, all of which were topical and present day, you want to envision you have a somewhat liberal and open mind but the exhibit was bold to test your resolve and what you would consider acceptable and how a dispassionate and objective would judge the headlines or comments made by others to be judged as acceptable. Coming away from the exhibit did make me realise just how relatable and at a point we find ourselves with a reliance of technology and processes, forms of Artificial Intelligence to monitor and control a great deal of our online consumption compared to where we were even a decade ago. Is there a need to employ a vast array of moderators when a simple algorithm can do the same process and moderate the same level of content. Processes such as these of course are open to abuse by human nature attempting to get around the restrictions in place, of course this raises the fear or possibility of these forms of Artificial Intelligence expanding beyond their scope of moderation and control.

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Leaving the main exhibit hall, you are granted the opportunity to explore and experience a variety of workshops and exhibits in keeping with the general theme and once more giving indication as to the direction of Artificial Intelligence and its impact beyond the preconceived notions we have. Firstly, an interesting simulator game that presented a future depiction of the Barbican Centre as a sit down exploration simulator. Anyone familiar with the so called, ‘walking sims’ will of course recognise the intention of the exhibit but it was still interesting to see and use for a short while and one I’ve IMG_3344considered would be a money generating venture for museums around the world with the push for VR goggles and the virtual experience. Of course there is something to be said for the tactile experience or seeing the objects in person but as a cheaper option to explore the Louvre or Met without the need to travel abroad does seem like a viable educatory experience. There were a number of workshops in use exploring poetry and art in practise with the input of certain basic computer processes and practises, I do find these type of experiences somewhat daunting given a slight aversion to crowds and participation in group exercise, a conceit and character flaw of mine preferring the option and means to explore at my own will. One of the attractions I did find by happenstance was a poetry generation machine built into a photo machine. The premise was fairly straight forward, you entered a single word into the mobile device attached to the booth and it took a photo and generated a poem or verse based on your input. With the opportunity to break here its a relaxed and undemanding experience, certainly on a clear day its nice to get outside and enjoy the water and breeze before venturing back down. Venturing down into the depths of the IMG_0452Barbican brings you to the final part of the exhibit, a room with a moving and possibly reactive display, I’m unsure on this although the images did seem to react partially on some input. Certainly it encourages you stand in front of the walls and move your arms around which I suppose can be viewed as the exhibit manipulating its guests with stimuli to act in a certain manner. Either way, it a beautiful assortment of Japanese themed art and music, a really tranquil room to just sit in and reflect on the environment you have taken in. Whilst there isn’t the scope to return to other previously explored areas, you never feel the push or drive to move on swiftly, the staff are relaxed and allow you to explore at your own pace using a timed entry system meaning you do have time to move and stop and reflect at each area. I immensely enjoyed the various exhibits on show, the linear nature of the event allowing you to follow the development of AI and robotics from its roots in mythology with the Golem legend to interactive art exhibits where you realise you have been manipulated to as great a level we found ourselves with early computing at its inception. It left a lasting impression, certainly clarifying the impact of Artificial Intelligence on society at present but as the name suggests, expanding beyond the human normative state into the natural world, the artificial beehives, art in poetry and literature. With confidence I would suggest the exhibit fulfilled its brief and would recommend to anyone curious about the impact of technology on society, its present, its very much all around us whether we recognise or accept the state of being or not. However it provides clarity and illumination on the subject matter, and if fear is bred from confusion and uncertainty, I would prefer to have understanding of the subject in as limited amount as I can comprehend to shed the confusion and understand where we are and what direction we are travelling in.

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Visits the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury

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“The inhabitants of this county are plain, honest, and hospitable, but unpolished, and reserved in conversation. They entertain a kind of indifference for the rest of the world, owing, probably, to the good opinion they entertain of their own portion of it”

John Strachey

Nestled in the heart of Glastonbury, hidden amongst the cottages and dwellings sits the Somerset Rural Life Museum, a lovingly converted barn and stable providing an insight into the world of country living targeted towards those visiting and from a more urban surrounding. Having undergone an extensive improvement program, the museum today is a wonderful mix of the old and eclectic presented in a fresh and engaging fashion to provide a view as to what life was life and remains today, with a brief overview of the many industries and practises undertaken in Somerset. With a plethora of exhibits, activities for children to enjoy and enough space for adults to explore it is a delightful museum in Glastonbury, and for an urban city dweller such as myself does leave an IMG_3039impression into life in this part of the world at the turn of the twentieth century in contrast to the industrialization in London where I reside today. Only a short walk away from my residence in Glastonbury, the museum conversely appears somewhat closed off when you enter from the street with the Abbey Barn closed off and sealed, with a little perseverance and working you way around to the right of the old Barn you enter the car park entrance to the right and the main entrance to the museum. Service, as you would expect is delightful and friendly, I would imagine in the summer months when it see’s a greater footfall there would perhaps be a greater demand on the reception team, thankfully today with the town occupied by a running event it was largely empty and so with my ticket purchased I was quickly within the IMG_3137museum, with the blessed words of no set direction and being able to explore at a whim. I’ll concede there is sometimes a requirement and necessity to follow a set path around an exhibit due to size or age for instance, the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam follows a set path providing insight but quickly ushered through. I always love and champion a museum or exhibit that lets you explore at your own pace and speed, drawn back for instance to a specific point of interest without the need to push your way back through. The museum here allows you to visit the various rooms and areas as you wish, perhaps there is a suggestion here to explore the long corridors of exhibits that tell the story of life in Somerset in the early half of the twentieth century. Equally you can leave the confines of the museum building and visit the Abbey Barn, a IMG_3122beautiful stone structure constructed by the dissolved Glastonbury and now very much one of the only surviving original structures in contrast to the ruins of the Abbey close by. There’s a certain grace you grant a museum such as this in contrast to the larger more established locations we’ve visited over the years, whilst receiving lottery funding to provide an extensive restoration program and reopening in 2017 it is a remarkably modern facility to explore and enjoy, deceptively so from the outside that would suggest or imply a more basic and rudimentary facility but within, certainly a marvel to explore with audio and visual information running concurrently, modern and clean facilities and accessibility for all allowing anyone and everyone to visit this attraction.

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The museum itself is largely divided into seven different areas to explore, the primary locations being the Abbey Barn, a temporary exhibit area and the long corridors displaying a wealth of artefacts and information to the different industries and areas. I began my visit along the two main corridors of the museum, each length divided into IMG_3054bays detailing the various aspects and parts of rural country life from the simplistic to the more complex. Whilst easily imaginable as a collection of old tools and metals, living and working with a service sector there is something fascinating to view the history of an active skill set, a sector producing a tangible good and product such as a shoe, a a tool and the ways these were produced. Clearly a great deal of money has been invested into both the collection of items but also and most importantly the design and layout of the items as they appear fresh and bold in contrast to the white washed walls. Is there something fascinating about an old hammer? perhaps not but in a clear context explained and defined and surrounded by other tools of the IMG_3051trade it was a clear and well thought out display. And equally every display in the location had a similar quality and thoroughness to the design from the farmers and printers to the cider makers and gentry, every small section was meticulously planned and design to tell its own personal story and chapter of living within the rural world of Somerset. Once we had circumvented the halls and exhibits we entered the main courtyard, I was curious to see more of the interior so headed back inside. Perhaps the downside to not having a predetermined route but equally I enjoy the freedom to explore and enjoy as I wish. Returning back inside and climbing up into the loft of the museum you visit a few rooms detailing the more personal history of Glastonbury including its many parades and roots over the years. Its IMG_3092fascinating, you tend to perceive these celebratory marches are a construct of modern times and a predication towards social media for example but its interesting to learn just how long they have been going on, particularly in Glastonbury with its more independent nature and character. A great deal of art work has been produced over the years by various artists in various styles  and these were interesting to see, the religious and scholastic  areas perhaps lost on me but the final room in this section of the museum was interesting to see, effectively a time capsule of residents and citizens voices over the past four decades recounting their history and lives for prosperity and future generations hence. The residents of Somerset were pioneers of IMG_3066storing their lives digitally long before the concept of social media was even a notion or dream. I must admit, I do have a certain penchant for shiny things, and being we are visiting and staying in the heart of Cider country and the dairy industry there are a great many labelled bottles preserved to show the history and legacy of bottling in this area, an entirely alien concept to many but one that shows the evolution of design for instance and the size of the storage bottles in use by everyday citizens over the years. Visually, attractive to see with the blue hues of the bottles working well against the warm terracotta walls. You can see a great deal of money has been spent to not only restore and update the museum but also to ensure it was done in a way to tell its own particular story in a visually pleasing and understandable way.

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Completed in 1340 the barn was part of the Abbey estate and used to store produce, following its dissolvement in 1539 acting as a farm building before seeing its restoration begin. Today, and indeed even with its construction it was and is a visually stunning building to see, almost gothic in design and strong connotations of a church structure in its own right. Its incredible believe up until the early 1970s the building was used for IMG_3076livestock. When you leave the museum structure you arrive in the court yard and of course instantly find yourself drawn to the art sculpture of Patch the Horse. An exhibit of the type and quality you would expect to find in London or closer to home in Bath for example it’s a beautiful piece of work and takes a prominent position in the courtyard. With the freedom to get close to view the detail and finishing I was impressed as a single piece its quality. Crossing over to the opposite side of the area you enter the barn through a solid wooden entrance and to the treasures within. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but again, any preconceptions based on the exterior of the building are quickly erased as you are treated to an audio and visual IMG_3081show of, well, Rural Life in Somerset. The videos are genuinely interesting, perhaps more so for those of an urban nature detailing a way of life that exists today a world away from the politics and drama of city living. The travellers and dwellers in the woods and forests, the farmers and merchants producing and making their goods for sale, beyond that a series of images and photographs showing the lives of many of those who live and dwell in this part of the country. You can find a great deal of comfort from being in a setting such as this when you realise all the things you stress about living in the city, whether a bus is running on time, whether your Uber food delivery is a couple of minutes late, those stresses of modern day life here, don’t mean a IMG_3080great deal at all. And for a moment, and what the museum does well is not only present its past and the past of the citizens of Somerset but also the present day and how modernity and the rustic nature of the area come together to form this vibrant and eclectic community of people.For the love and praise I give Glastonbury sometimes it does feel a little overwhelming with the chaotic nature of a sea of individuals and tribes and people coming together in a melting pot of a small local town, I have a slight aversion to the chaotic nature of the place at times but just find exhibits and images such as these a reminder that modernity and classicism can work together and function, as long as their is compromise on both sides there is scope for everyone to live at peace.

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The last room on my tour was a temporary exhibit, a series of photography from Matilda Temperley called ‘ A View From The Hill’ showcasing a range of imagery taken in and around Somerset as commissioned by the museum, to capture both the environment and people that reside in this area. I will confess I was unsure what to expect, certainly there IMG_3041are so many views of the Tor and fields you can enjoy before they all begin to look a little familiar, thankfully my amatuer status was proven for what it was and I was treated to a series of images and pictures highlighting the variety of life that makes up this particular county in England. From the industrialization of the dairy industry, the barns and tractors of the farming and cider industry to the more intimate and personal images captured of the residents of various areas. A particular image I adored was of the floats during the Glastonbury festival that pass through every year. Having watched these on a previous occasion they are a mixture of the sublime to the ridiculous with everything and anything in between, here she captured a Gremlin IMG_3043themed float from the movie baring the same name. I adored the contrasting views of the light and attention to detail, but also the almost steampunk feel to the location, the use of black and white and the shadow play at work that so wonderfully captured the spirit and energy of Glastonbury specifically, but also almost transported you back in time with the emotive nature of the picture. And just as equally, from the mechanization and pomp and ceremony of the parade you were transported to the lakes and rivers with images captured there of the environment natural countryside that is both identifiably part of Somerset and the immediate surroundings and also how its residents use the water to get around for leisure and other personal reasons. As a year IMG_3136long project, all I could do was be amazed at the tranquility of nature, the adoption and use of technology by its residents and how, unlike so many other areas in the country it hasn’t been overwhelmed and transformative to the natural beauty of the county. Without a doubt there are elements of industrialization and change occuring, within a stones throw from the fiercely independent Glastonbury you arrive at Street and a plethora of outlet stores and shops that allow you to experience within a few miles both a liberal and independent mecha whilst enjoying the best retail opportunities.

I’m glad and fortunate I took the opportunity to visit the Somerset Rural Life Museum, even more so following its transformation into becoming one of the most recent and modern locations I have visited on my travels. A great deal of money has been spent to transform it into a location that is both fit to serve a modern day audience whilst retaining its character for prosperity. The barn itself its breathtaking to view, and genuinely an insight into the design and architectural style that was agonisingly destroyed over the course of the centuries as witnessed at the Abbey only a short distance away. One of the greatest sensations was standing inside the somewhat chilly abbey barn with the sound of birds echoing throughout the structure from their nests in the gaps of the building, despite the modernity, the money, the lighting, just a beautiful structure that was still at one with nature. With an entrance ticket that allows entry throughout the year this will without question result in a return visit, I adored the photography of Matilda Temperley, she has really captured the energy and spirit of the country and specifically the town I’ve come to frequent over the past couple of years. I am intrigued to see what exhibit follows this, but given the attention to detail as witnessed today I am certain it will be something special. A great time spent experiencing for the moment, rural life in Somerset. To that end, the museum succeeded magnificently.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

On the Chihuly Trail at Kew Gardens

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“If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive”

Eleonora Duse

An assortment of breathtaking and stunning blown glass art work awaits you throughout 2019 as the American artist Dale Chihuly brings an assortment of his most prestigious and exclusive works to Kew Gardens running from 13th April into the winter months. Visitors not only have the opportunity to visit and tour at their leisure during the day but towards the middle of the year a reserved expansion of the exhibit will launch, Chihuly at night affording the opportunity to view and experience this artistry at dusk and night, lit up and on display providing a unique perspective to enjoy. Having enjoyed the marvel and spectacle of Kew at Christmas for the past two years, without a moment’s pause as an attraction and destination they have a proven record of hosting these exhibitions in such a unique and moving atmosphere. IMG_0183As works of art, they would hold court on their own merits, simply stunning to view one of the leading sculptors with this medium of his generation, in a paid exhibit in a gallery they would be a worthwhile experience, to be afforded the opportunity to view these works in the natural environment of Kew Gardens and the interwoven union of these pieces of work with the splendour of nature in the open gardens was such a fabulous treat. In contrast to the Christmas at Kew event the trail of work is more confined around the main entrance way and more well-known areas of the gardens including the newly opened Temperate house that is such a majestic structure to witness especially from the elevated platforms overlooking the interior gardens. In addition an annex of the Shirley Sherwood gallery of Botanic Art plays host to more smaller but as equally moving and amazing pieces of work by Chihuly, quite honestly there was an incredible amount of individual pieces within the gallery you could easily imagine an entrance fee may have been charged to visit this separate space, that your normal entrance ticket affords you the opportunity to tour the larger works in the open garden and the gallery itself within the gardens is astonishing value for money. IMG_0160As a form of art its a methodology and type I’ve long appreciated and always respected the dedication and patience that goes into the formation and creation of each individual piece, the precision and skill to craft for example the work above in its form around the traditional base amazing to see. One of the challenges with any forms of external art work is how they blend, whether they can show some form of cohesion with their immediate environment or instead stick out, intentionally or not with their placement. I enjoy the Christmas exhibit, in large parts the various sculptures and exhibits work gloriously creating a strange ethereal connection to the gardens with towering exhibits as a facsimile of the flowers and plans around them. However, others more purposefully stood out and contrasted to the softer hues of nature with the more vibrant and bold light exhibits. The Christmas exhibit was a mixture of two styles it felt, the various exhibits of Dale Chihuly do feel more balanced to a degree with sculptures and installations very much feeling at one and part of the environment they find themselves situated within. IMG_1113The hanging work in the Temperate house, crafted specifically for this exhibit is amazing to see and will be genuinely missed when the season ends if it were to move on with his various other pieces. For now, for a relatively modest entrance fee in comparison to other central London attraction you are afforded the opportunity to explore not only the stunning gardens and all the Victorian era green houses open and available to the public for the first time in a long period but until late October a chance to visit and see these incredible pieces of art in a natural environment both by day and illuminated at night, itself always a welcome attraction to visit and experience. The always amazing and wonderful aspect of the gardens at any time is the evolving and changing natural environment as flowers grow and blossom, whilst the exhibitions themselves may remain static over the next six months the flowers themselves will change, my experience this month will be considerably different to yours in a month or two.

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The outdoor exhibit itself was amazing, as mentioned confined to the areas around the main Victoria Gate and the south-west corner of the gardens allowing you a pleasant walk around the various pieces of art without physically exerting yourself to that great a degree of effort. Having visited the Christmas exhibit which is entirely outdoors and constrains you to a set path it was refreshing to be able to view and experience these attractions without having to follow a set path or be restricted to one direction or another. IMG_2674I much prefer being able to take in and enjoy exhibit such as these at my own pace, taking a seat and whilst the world passes me by absorb the beauty and meaning of the art on display as opposed to feeling rushed and directed around. Enjoying the gardens in the summer by day is a contrasting experience to the beauty of the illuminated art by night, both have their merits but certainly I enjoyed the more relaxed pace. Some were more aware of their environment it felt, certainly a great degree of the pieces shown by Chihuly were existing sculptures and work of art that wasn’t purposefully designed for this exhibit at Kew but had been chosen to suit the theme of the area. The blue and purple leafs and flowers were fascinating to see, you can see the influence of nature upon the artist and how these pieces so vividly reflected the natural world, but equally how much they blended with the various species of plants behind them. IMG_2708Close to the temperate house, a path surrounded either side by over a 1000 planted tulips was equally amazing to see, the various colours and hues on show will look glorious in the summer months when they come to bloom. With the added attraction of the pink blossom from the tree’s above and the soft red and orange stained glass this was an amazing exhibit to see and enjoy walking the length of the path and being impressed by both the spectacle of the gardens in the early Spring bloom but also the blown glass standing as impressive as the blossom trees surrounding. The usual lily pad exhibit and green house that is always fascinating to see has been taken out by statues in the water, a wonderful feat and with the large open pool leading towards the palm house providing a temporary home to the circular sunshine exhibit there is just a great deal to see. On this particular visit it was the opportunity to visit the temperate house, a part of the gardens I had yet to see and enjoy having undergone extensive restoration work and reopening in 2018 that was such an open and impressive feat of Victorian architecture. IMG_2741Having enjoyed the Palm House over the years and the warm and humid area within there is always a certain confinement when entering, an acute aware of those around you as you try to maneuver carefully around other visitors and the plants themselves. The Princess of Wales conservatory is a more modern inclusion with a zonal aspect and different temperaments but with each area confined to a relatively small space you do crave the luxury of the open gardens. The temperate house in contrast is vast and open, constructed in a similar style to its peers within the grounds but allowing so much light and views of the surrounding gardens to be visible you don’t have that sense of restriction found within the Palm house or closed off areas in the conservatory. In one visit, this has quite easily become my favourite part of the gardens and in impressive reminder of the architectural design of the structure itself but also the open planning of the gardens to feel so expansive and open, entwined with the artwork of Chihuly you understand what a fitting gesture this was and a showcase of its grandeur.

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Towards the beginning of the trail after witnessing the first of the exhibitions is situated the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, host to the Chihuly exhibit showcasing an assortment of the artists smaller pieces best suited for the studio and gallery environment but equally as stunning to see and experience. When we came across the exhibit on walking around the park I had expected to pay an additional fee perhaps but thankfully entry is included on a phased basis for free allowing you to enjoy the exhibits and pieces without feeling crushed inside. IMG_2853Progressing around in a clockwise fashion you are treated to a half-dozen rooms of various tones and designs, all lit to different levels providing an effective ambient level of illumination reflecting off the glass finish. I enjoyed seeing the smaller pieces, the striped coloured pattern sea shell-like shapes were especially effective. The somewhat chaotic nature and scattering of the shells reflecting the natural environment they were based on. As immersive and impressive were the larger vases and statues in the main central room whilst also showcasing a video of the methodology of the artist and the process that went into creating a number of the exhibits on show. With a run time of close to an hour certainly for the dedicated fan of the artist and genre but it was fun to stop for a few moments and watch Chihuly at work in his studio creating these objects and the visual treat of seeing them in person. IMG_2840My favourite pieces of his from the exhibit were the three figure shaped statues located in the main room in various shades of blue, stunning to capture and see with great interplay between the light on the surface and the reflective quality. With a room full of exhibits to see and view it is certainly worth your entry fee, which amazingly was free and certainly a pleasant surprise to experience and enjoy, of course there was the obligatory gift shop to explore and even a number of statues and items to buy with corresponding prices to make your, well my eyes water. The value of art is of course subjective, but perhaps a little to rich for my liking. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable exhibit to experience and would recommend to residents and visitors alike over the next half-year. With the option to experience the statues again with the illuminations towards the end of Summer and into the autumn it certainly is a worthwhile experience, I had only been vaguely aware of the work of Dale Chihuly before attending Kew having seen a few pieces of his at various locations and times. It was a pleasure to see a wider base of his work and especially in the environment of the gardens whose ambience infuses with the work to the extent its difficult to image the same location once the exhibit finishes. A worthy, if temporary addition to Kew Gardens.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Walking the Grand Union Canal: Tring to Berkhamsted

In 2016 I began my next personal challenge to continue my exploration and discovery of London’s waterways and connectivity into the heart of England by walking the length of the Grand Union Canal, a relatively recent waterway in contrast to the existence of the Thames but no less important, at one time the main form of connectivity from the city to the midlands and beyond. A crucial thoroughfare for both civilian use as well as the movement of cargo and freight from the black country to the nation’s capital. The canal network in this region has faced a number of transformations since its inception, the final iteration of what we know as the Grand Union Canal only coming into existence in 1929. Today, the 137 mile stretch from London to Birmingham, once a thriving artery of traffic between the capital and second city now stands as a contrasting passage of connectivity to the road and rail network.

Tring to Berkhamsted Map

The next stage of our endeavour to walk the Grand Union Canal began in the rural town of Berkhamsted, notable for the presence of the remains of the castle that once stood in close proximity to where the station now resides today. Safely in the domain of gentry and the well to do there is a charming and rustic appeal to this small that serves as a transit point for those heading both into London and in the opposite direction towards the Midlands and Birmingham on the London North Western branded green and black commuter trains serving the two main cities of the country. One of the great joys as previously noted has been the discovery and exploration of these towns and spaces I would have no other reason or recourse to visit, each stretch has led to a new discovery, a new place to mark off the map as we have walked a great deal so far but still have a vast distance ahead of us. Image result for berkhamsted railway station Continuing our journey where we concluded our adventure last time saw us arrive in good time at Berkhamsted station, well catered for the commuting class with ample and relatively cheap parking. As we push further out of the capital each stretch does require some planning to making this a sustainable and enjoyable endeavour to undertake. With trains running on the hour even a slight delay would have been somewhat detrimental to our plans but thankfully with planning and good foresight we arrived with plenty of time to spare and having partaken of a friendly hot drink and rest room facilities we boarded the train on the short journey to Tring. It’s easy to dismiss or under-estimate the distance of these walks based on these train journeys, within minutes we arrived at our stop but in reality and by foot its a far greater challenge.I knew very little of this location before setting out on this stretch of our walk, coming to discover it is home to a subsidiary and under the control of the Natural History Museum, a collection of a variety of animals and avian samples once the domain of the Rothschild banking family. Image result for tring railway stationGiven its stature and being renown for its financial and historical links I was expecting a more opulent arrival, a station with grandeur instead finding ourselves deposited upon a series of some desolate platforms with a small cabin provided as the extent of the station. No exactly what I had envisioned when I set out on this stretch of the canal but the unexpected and the unknown have greeted us along our journey and as a starting point you do find yourself quickly arriving at the Canal which is always a blessing and a small reminder how closely connected the canal network was to the railways in terms of navigation and direction. Each of these recent stretches has almost directly followed the old London and North West Railway route from the midlands into Euston station. A very welcoming sign greeted us as we arrived at the beginning of this stretch of track, an indication we were on the right way.

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The more rural communities we’ve encountered and come across during our walks have certainly had a certain distinct aesthetic in how the canals look and have been maintained as we have begun the next stretch of our journey. Visually, the look and tone of the Tring juncture in truth could be any point along the way with the maintained, to a degree, pathways and the more densely packed woods or verges providing evidence of artificial construction often accompanied by housing and development. 77117D32-D89C-44EE-890F-381F8CBAA5A5Here was no exception and with the sounds of engines from passing vehicles and the distinct shape of housing peeking over the edge of the verge it’s quite easy to find yourself drawing a conclusion of familiarity and repetitiveness with little to discover or explore. On clear days these stretches of our walks do hold a certain beauty and charm as the blue skies and clear water reflections are genuinely stunning to witness, the precision and indeed very presence of man’s dominion over nature with the canal network providing some comfort and appreciation providing transit and direction of travel. Thankfully, within a very short space of time as we left Tring the canal itself opens up until you realise you are walking through clear open fields with a sense of isolation and wonderment that gives rise to the sense you are very much outside the realms of the capital and the city environment, and to an extent as isolated and remote as you feel in truth you are a short distance to a town, a railway station or connecting point. FEB45071-AF50-48C9-8FE7-D194195FDB04Tring, is only a short half hour drive from where I live, with modern technology and the connectivity that brings you are always connected to some degree to the world around you, stopping to take a moment on this walk you find yourself imagining the solitude the merchants and traders would have experienced on the trip from Birmingham to London. Certainly they were far busier as commercial transport routes than they are today, but even walking along and coming across breaks in the hedgerows and vegetation that give witness to the sweeping fields beyond, even such a short distance, today, from London it would have been a great distance to travel from where we stood that day. Every lock house we pass with the white plastered cottages close by reminds you on those long voyages into the capital they would have served as a means of contact and communication with the outside world, telephones weren’t a practical and readily available facility on commercial barge boats. IMG_0074Probably the greatest aspect I’ve personally enjoyed through undertaking this journey has been the discovery of these viewpoints and the total sense of isolation that resonates and permeates your thought process as you stop to take in the environment around you. These types of Victorian era bridges are common place to walk beneath along the main canal network, not remarkable in their nature but certainly some beautiful view points beyond in contrast to the urban vision of London as you closer to the capital. I was intrigued by the elevated houses on the verges to the left of our walk as we exited out, designed, presumably to guard against elevation of the water levels and erosion. Some beautiful buildings and structures to see as you exit into the daylight beyond.

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Halfway into our journey brought us to the quiet, small village of North Church, visually somewhat of a turning point in this stretch of walk as we left the rural countryside and begun to witness the transformation into the more suburban development in and around Berkhamsted. Not a sudden shift but certain small signs that give indication to homes and dwellings. Coming across the lock just south of Cow Roast, incidentally, a really awesome name had a truly autumnal almost post apocalyptic nature to the design and atmosphere.IMG_0070 It was a location that made me stop to wonder out loud to my bemused girlfriend should humanity disappear overnight and humanities footprint on the planet start to erode what would happen to the canals and locks, would a tidal surge wash down from the Chiltern hills into the capital and my home? Thankfully the canals themselves are wonderfully maintained by the Canals and River Trust today, taking over from the remit of the former British Waterways as pictured at the beginning of our walk. As we moved further south so the quality of the walk way and general appearance began to improve and some of the beautiful and rewarding sights came to pass. I do love capturing the foliage and trees, especially in the spring and autumn when you see the intricate pattern of the branches beneath. With the skies clearing somewhat we were blessed to see some beautiful reflections on the still water surface, the branches and the blossom hanging overhead and dipping down towards the water creating a lovely tunnel like effect momentarily to pass down. Certainly you can understand why a number of canal boats IMG_E0081[1]have moored at this particular stretch of the Grand Union Canal, and not to dwell to greatly on the same point but residing at this location with the beauty of nature and being a short distance from a mainline station into London is a tempting prospect. Pushing forward and leaving North Church behind us we were treated to the usual assortment of walkers, runners and ramblers who occupy and utilise this beautiful stretch of land, with a pleasant greeting as we pass. Residing in the suburban sprawl of Uxbridge you do become accustomed to acting with a degree of trepidation and wariness at those attempting to interact with you outside the social norms and boundaries. It’s a mentality that’s hard to shift and overcome and despite a certain level of jovial humour and commentary from those who live north of the capital, in truth its an ingrained mindset, to be wary of those around us. But even a short distance outside London you do come to realise people are really, a lot friendlier and welcoming, we’ve ventured beyond the coldness and isolationism of London into welcoming territory, its unsettling to say the least.

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The final approach to Berkhamsted, itself a charming and elegant community and town is somewhat bittersweet with the more industrial impact and legacy of the canal network and subsequent development alongside the water way far more evident but to a degree or good fortune obscured by nature to some extent. It would be idiotic and presumptuous to hold these stretches of waterway to some pristine standard when they were in effect the main thoroughfare and means of transport for much of the industrial revolution. IMG_0078Today, they provide solace and tranquility to those who reside and utilise the various stretches of the Canal network, connecting villages and towns in much the same way today as they did in their formation but for much different purposes. But as society attempts to shift to a more balanced and less impactful environment footprint on the natural terrain, with firms recognising the positive effects of situating development close to areas of beauty for their work force you do understand to a degree why offices and buildings continue to be situated and developed with views such as these. Yes, it isn’t quite as scenic to view or explore but given the choice I know where I would prefer to look out on every day. Interestingly to a lesser or greater extent depending on your perspective its interesting to consider for example the Parkland Walk which was also converted from its original premise as an industrial transport link and repurposed to a nature reserve and and path for residents and visitors to explore. Arriving back into the town itself or IMG_0079indeed any of the more urban areas we passed through does break the illusion of tranquility you find yourself in when walking the Grand Union Canal but thankfully I can attest it is a temporary exclusion as the stretch beyond leading towards Apsley provides some stunning imagery to capture and witness. This final portion of our walk leading into the main town centre was a pleasant experience, the weather had broken and the sun was starting to emerge and although the canal itself is surrounded by brief stretches of industrial estate and office blocks you can still enjoy some pleasant views. Indeed approaching the main bridge that crosses over the waterway leading towards the station you come across a series of buildings and developments that would look almost in place in Central London with a modernity not normally associated with the quiet rural towns such as Berkhamsted. But with some welcoming, or at the very least somewhat distracted geese and swans who reside at this particular stretch of the Canal our walk came to an end and we climbed up the gentle steps to look back along the stretch of water behind us to enjoy one last view of the canal. IMG_0082[1]As we walked the brief walk to collect the car and drive back into London as ever it crossed my mind without doing these walks I would never have a reason or purpose to venture out to these towns and villages, neither a focal point to visit or a corridor to another destination. Thankfully, through perseverance and determination we have now ventured from Limehouse Basin to Tring and discovered a vast assortment of views and sites to remember, locations to enjoy. In this short stretch of the canal itself an opportunity to return and explore the castle ruins in Berkhamsted and the Natural History Museum collection in Tring. It does require a degree of planning and preparation, but that in itself provides the reward of discovery through finding out about locations along the way. On our next adventure we venture further ahead and towards Cheddington and Aylesbury.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Visits the Fleet Air Arm Museum

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“I placed my soul and body in God’s keeping and I am going into battle with His name on my lips”

Second Lieutenant John Engall 30th June 1916

Within the tapestry of the nation is engrained a fundamental respect and appreciation for the service, and sacrifice given by those who have served in our country’s armed forces. With a military service in the United Kingdom founded in three distinct tranches, historically there has been scope for cross-pollination into each other, the service of the Royal Marines for example acting as a fighting force in their own regard complimenting the institution of the British Army and here the service of the Fleet Air Arm, the aviation wing of the Royal Navy independent and away from the jurisdiction and scope of the Royal Air Force. Up until recently I had been aware of their existence and purpose, the supportive role they served from carrier operations for example but largely, the history of this institution was one, historically I was somewhat uneducated on. Situated in Somerset at RNAS Yeovilton is the Fleet Air Arm Museum, part of the larger National Museum of the Royal Navy with a number of attractions and locations mainly around the south of England, dedicated to the promotion and remembrance of British Naval Aviation and the Royal Navy in general. 20190320_210312Opened in 1964, the museum has seen continual change and innovation, its centerpiece the carrier exhibit between halls with its flight deck and aircraft experience a fascinating attraction unique to this location. In addition to the general attractions as with other museums of this type and nature it continues to support the restoration of military aircraft recovered and transported to Yeovil to restore and preserve the equipment for prosperity sake. Comparisons can be drawn to other similar museums and institutions, the Imperial War Museum center at Duxford airfield its nearest equivalence with similar exhibits and lineage on show. For me, having experienced the various sites of the IWM over the past 12 months it was an interesting comparative occurrence, given its age and somewhat restricted location in an active military station it doesn’t garner perhaps the same acclaim or attention the other attractions of the NMRM receive or indeed even the IWM. But with a wealth of historical treasures collected from the course of the Air Arms existence in active service, it was a unique and fantastic museum to visit in its own right.

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The journey to the museum was somewhat of an experience in itself, driving down the  country roads until the air station comes into view, passing the familiar red and white military road signage and the prominence of the museum is clear as it stands with its bold blue and white exterior decoration. Having visited in recent months both the Imperial War Museum airfield at Duxford and the RAF museum in Hendon I was curious as to how this museum would compare, more specifically what if anything would differentiate the sites given the familiarity of the subject matter. Whilst those mentioned are now both used principally as tourist destinations with private aircraft using the airfield at Duxford this is very much an active air station and as such has a different sense and atmosphere when you arrive. There is ample and free parking which is always a relief as it doesn’t place undue constraints on your stay or experience, facilities are available outside the main museum and with a new outdoor play area for children and young visitors FAAM play area it is a location that is transforming and catering for guests in the 21st century. Entry, for those of an able-bodied disposition is made through a staircase to the first floor, signage does indicate an alternative entry point for those unable to use the stairs, where or how this is done is another question but equally it does remind you this was and is an active base, transforming itself for a new purpose and role. When you enter the museum you arrive in a well stocked and varied gift shop selling a variety of wares and items for the preservation and continuation of the museum. The entry fee itself is relatively modest, as an option you do have a chance to purchase a ticket through the museums online portal saving yourself a small amount, as this can be done as late as the morning of the visit it gives small respite for this looking for an affordable activity to explore and enjoy. In addition this can be used again over the course of 12 months, for those visiting Somerset as a one-off experience perhaps the pull of returning for the museum alone isn’t to great but for those residing within a short drive or even close by there quite simply isn’t a museum and location such as this anywhere close without venturing further into London towards the Imperial War Museum institutions.

Divided into four separate halls, subjectively the first hall is perhaps not its greatest and a reflection both of the age and limitation of the museum, but still an interesting dedication to the history of the pioneers of naval aviation from the earliest kites and balloons to the transition and use of helicopters in the Fleet Air Arm. On arrival you are treated to a brief cinematic film of the history of the service before entering the first hall and descending into the first chamber you are treated to the various historical aircraft, all well-preserved however somewhat limited in the scope of detail and information about them. It gives the impression perhaps then of a museum in transition, with certain aspects and areas developed or modernised whilst others linger to a degree waiting to be refurbished. The film on arrival is fascinating to watch, a few nice touches of design and aesthetic however equally certain parts seem a little dated in contrast. IMG_8819I enjoyed certain touches, the connectivity to the forces, the various military quotes along the walls add a certain poignancy and connection to the history of those in the service. Equally, on the times I have visited a couple of the displays have been turned off or not functioning with equipment lying around, it lacks some of the polish and finish of its contemporaries and peers. Venturing further into the museum brings you to the second hall where a great deal of the museums military aircraft are based in addition to the exhibitions which truth be told in other venues would have attracted an additional charge. I’ll readily admit I do enjoy the spectacle and marvel of this machinery and exhibits, the projected power and prestige of the armed forces and the nations ingenuity and fortitude in the construction and preservation of these aircraft for prosperity sake. IMG_8845As a historical fact, naval aviation fundamentally changed the structure of the war at sea as much as submarines, from large battleships as the dominant force at the beginning of the 20th century to carriers being able to project a great distance and expose the vulnerability of stationary targets. All documented and discussed but in addition some fascinating side exhibits including a display of art and paintings of the Air Art assets in action and operation which was fun to see but also a somewhat subdued but still prominent exhibition on the role of women in the services. I will always champion exhibits such as those featured in this museum which tell and present a true reflection of the role women had during the great wars as couriers, messengers, mechanics, factory workers, all crucial and fundamental to the war effort to keep the nation going. IMG_8835There’s a temptation to project our present day sensibilities and attitudes onto the past to reframe and try to make sense of a sense of character and purpose we don’t understand or can comprehend. In my humble opinion it’s not only a disservice but a dishonor to ignore this crucial function and role, to try to project an illusion of equality of role and duty at this time, without the aircraft mechanics and factory works, the medical staff, the couriers, code breakers and communication workers there wouldn’t have been an infrastructure and supply line that kept the forces operational and turned the tide. There are so many roles and duties women served during the war these are the real stories I enjoy discovering which should be championed above all else. Finally this hall does also contain two viewing areas overlooking the airfield, on a clear day and as an active operating base you do have a chance to witness the facilities helicopters in flight and conducting tests. I love seeing these aircraft in motion, they are amazing to see to someone in civilian life and reflect the skill and training of the services in being able to operate these vehicles in such a controlled disciplined fashion.

One of the attractions greatest exhibits and selling points is without question the Carrier exhibit, modelled, ostensiby after the Invincible class carriers that served the Royal Navy over the past half century most notably during the Falklands War conflict. Situated in the third hall visitors are provided an opportunity to ‘fly’ onto the carrier through a helicopter simulator that attempts to reproduce the sound and sensation of landing upon a flight deck. Its somewhat aged in contrast to more modern sensory based exhibits but in truth is great fun to experience and stepping out the hatch onto the flight deck of the carrier is enjoyable as you witness the various aircraft around you. From there you are treated to other interactive exhibits such as a landing aircraft using both video footage combined with stationary fighters. On a busy day I would imagine it could feel quite crowded given the proximity of aircraft and the restricted floor space available but with only a few guests passing through and no pressing rush or drive to move on you can quite easily amble around before moving onto the Tower portion of the attraction, IMG_8946a recreation of the various operations rooms and departments on a carrier that faithfully recreate the appearance and aesthetic of a military vessel during this period. You do need to approach the exhibit with a mindset that is very much a product of its time, the introductory and tour videos that play at various stages as you progress from room to room a little dated in both its appearance and quality in contrast to more digital based content more readily available at the museums bigger contemporaries. Certainly when compared to the relatively recently renovated National Army Museum in Chelsea or the main Imperial War Museum’s First World War exhibit the Carrier attraction is showing its age. However, to the best of my memory there really isn’t anything like this with your tour guiding you through the various departments and areas of a carrier. Certainly HMS Belfast in London provides an opportunity to explore a preserved vessel from its time and with other attractions as part of the Naval Museum package is this form of display strictly necessary? questionable but it is enjoyable and such a unique way to display the aircraft housed within the museum. IMG_8918Quite simply the museum could have put a facade of a tower and not lost any appeal or attraction, the planes are the stars of this museum and certainly no other museum has gone to such lengths to showcase the history of the Fleet Air Arm. However, taken in its entirety as a showcase of the role the Navy played in conflict, specifically the aircraft carriers which at the time of its construction would have still been in active service and mainly unavailable to the civilian population to tour an exhibit such as this was a wonderful showcase of a technology that would have been both alien and hostile to the world around them. Today, yes a somewhat nostalgic look at the military of that time but still an enjoyable exhibit to explore. Perhaps my only complaint the requirement to move forward relatively quickly from room to room, I enjoyed the means to explore Belfast at my own pace and time, here it felt constrained with a necessity to push forward but given the confines of space and a narrative to follow its tolerable and you never feel you miss any of the information on show or the videos guiding you around. Ending with a descent on an aircraft lift simulator and depositing you in an area overlooking the conservation area gives you a brief tour of the latest carriers serving the Navy and entry to the final hall.

The final hall in the museum is at best, described as a somewhat eclectic but impressive mixture of both civilian and military aircraft, most notable for housing one of the early prototype Concorde planes. It’s difficult to imagine this pioneering technology grows further into distant memory for generations living today, even in my youth I was only vaguely aware as to its impact on the aviation market. Having gone aboard one of the other models in the UK at Duxford, the plane housed here is somewhat devoid of the equipment and housings found in the IWM exhibit however is still an equally impressive exhibit to explore. IMG_8962Entered from the rear compartment allows you to experience the full scope and length of the plane. A word of warning, it was designed for aerodynamic efficiency and performance, those of a somewhat taller disposition will suffer from a bumped head and shin on more than one occasion whilst traversing the length of the Concorde but this was very much the future of transport at one stage, arguably ahead of the curve that suffered a regrettable fate that restricted the expansion of this technology onto the mass market. IMG_8961As noted on the other model I have visited these experimental aircraft were very much a mixture of civilian comfort and scientific endeavour, fascinating to witness and explore. I enjoyed some of the nice touches, the inclusion of the seating area gives a brief hint as to the grandeur and opulence of this aircraft and those who were fortunate to ride upon her and her predecessors. The thrill of achieving supersonic speeds over the Atlantic and arriving in so short a time in New York would have been exhilarating, today a distant memory or living only in imagination. The menu’s detailing the foods on offer suggest far dining far in excess of any found aboard todays modern aircraft. One nice addition that stands in contrast to its counterpart in Duxford was the ability to move further forward into the cockpit area, I enjoyed the access and being able to move, somewhat carefully to witness the technology almost 6 decades old but still a testament of its time. On leaving the Concorde a concourse route around the exhibit hall gives witness to many of the military craft featured including a Harrier jet IMG_8988 and one of the impressive Sea King helicopters. There is a substantial amount to see when visiting this museum, I was perhaps a little guarded or wary of what to expect when I attended having been in the good fortune to attend similar thematic locations such as the museum in Duxford and Hendon which both showcase a familiar range of aircraft and information. Subjectively, a strange conclusion to draw but I would probably say what I enjoyed most about this museum was its historical charm and nature, showcasing and capturing a chapter of the aviation history of the Fleet Air Arm whilst acknowledging the future of the service aboard the newest flag-ship of the navy in active service today. With the work it carries out to preserve recovered aircraft there is a sense your visit and donation supports and funds the continued work of the museum, the staff and volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable able to provide context where required on what you see before you. Certainly there is scope for development and modernisation but arguably, that would take away some of the charm of the attraction. There’s a temptation to look upon this museum with whimsical charm folly, a product of a bygone era but it’s very setting reminds you the Fleet Air Arm is an active part of the UK’s military operation, being witness to the helicopters in training and service is fascinating to watch. This then making the Fleet Air Arm Museum an authentic and welcoming attraction to visit.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Walking the Grand Union Canal: Berkhamsted to Apsley

In 2016 I began my next personal challenge to continue my exploration and discovery of London’s waterways and connectivity into the heart of England by walking the length of the Grand Union Canal, a relatively recent waterway in contrast to the existence of the Thames but no less important, at one time the main form of connectivity from the city to the midlands and beyond. A crucial thoroughfare for both civilian use as well as the movement of cargo and freight from the black country to the nation’s capital. The canal network in this region has faced a number of transformations since its inception, the final iteration of what we know as the Grand Union Canal only coming into existence in 1929. Today, the 137 mile stretch from London to Birmingham, once a thriving artery of traffic between the capital and second city now stands as a contrasting passage of connectivity to the road and rail network.

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This journey begun in the small town of Apsley, in fact the termination point for the walk but where our travel and reliance on public transport takes over. One of the more demanding aspects of deciding to undertake this challenge has been the logistics of how to facilitate the exploration of the Grand Union Canal over different periods of time, specifically due to the length and distance involved the various start and end points of our walks. Relying solely on public transport is one option due to the nature of the canal following the mainline route into Birmingham however this still requires travelling to a mainline station to join the route and this itself takes time to do so. Beginning at the town of Apsley having walked the various routes and branching tributaries presented a challenge, realistically to rely on the trains alone would have added another 3 hours to the duration of the walk, a good hour and half journeying from our home start location in Cowley, Hillingdon to the mainline in Harrow and Wealdstone before boarding the West Midlands Train. Thankfully, with the means to drive, one short trip around the M25 and up into Hertfordshire and we were able to save an hour and park at Apsley Station. Whilst there is a payment machine situated with the benefit of forethought we planned ahead and registered through their website allowing us begin and pay without the need for money. In more rural areas where the means to get change in traditional style meters may be an issue I was impressed with the adoption of this payment method.

Trains run at regular intervals although on a Sunday, the traditional day we tend to go walking the gaps between service can be up to half an hour, in short, planning your journey ahead of time is essential if you don’t want to sit and wait in a rural commuter station. I will say having undertaken a fair amount of commuting in my career to do by train the service on the West Midlands Line was extremely welcoming and cordial, 20190302_111006 you sort of become accustomed to rude and abrasive train staff, it’s a challenging role and I don’t mean to demean or begrudge the customer service role they provide. Needless to say, the tone of the average conductor in London is far different from the behaviour even a few miles outside the M25. Seemingly we chose the right day to undertake our latest adventure, a number of football fans were travelling in the opposite direction into London, these two suburbanite’s were heading in the opposite direction. Arriving into Berkhamsted was a somewhat wet and drizzly experience, giving me little hope for pleasant weather for the journey ahead based on prevailing weather conditions but I was optimistic despite the usual English climate we would be treated to a few nice views along the way. The first point of contact was to get our bearings, a new town always throws up a few challenges or diversions but thankfully it was relatively easy, the added advantage once more of the railway line following the canal route up into the midlands. 20190302_112328Leaving the station you immediately see the Canal before you intersecting through the town and very much telling its own story and prominence in the history of this location. Certainly, before undertaking this walk I was aware of the place by its name only however it is one of the more grand and traditional towns we have encountered on our travels. One area of interest which I have the intention to explore when we return is the ruins of the castle only a short walk from the station. On this trip time was somewhat pressing and in order to be expedient we decided to press on and begin our walk along this stretch of the canal. Each starting point does require some form of Bear related photo to mark the occasion, thankfully a plaque adorned the first bridge we came upon and this seemed like a natural spot to signify this latest adventure had begun in earnest.

I will declare from the offset the most remarkable locations and views along this stretch of our walk came between Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead, once we had left behind a short stretch of housing development and construction close to the main roads at our starting location, very quickly the canal gave way to some beautiful reflective shots and views. There is something to be said for some of the reflections we’ve come across on our travels, when designers are attuned and aware of their surroundings on occasion we have found some amazing urban architecture on our paths that compliment the natural beauty of nature. But, generally speaking you do have to remember this was effectively a commercial thoroughfare through to London, the design aesthetic wasn’t of paramount importance and largely the housing and buildings you tend to walk beside aren’t of the highest design quality. Thankfully, in more newly developed areas this isn’t the case and some of the new built houses are pleasing to view. Pushing on though, with the weather starting to clear and the skies opening up you are reminded of the beauty of the Victorian era of architecture and its impact on the natural environment with some amazing views of the canal as its moved towards 20190302_113934Hemel largely following the path of the old London road although thankfully there was almost no noise perhaps given the day and other routes available to drive into London today. The path is relatively well maintained, a few large puddles and water issues to exist requiring a degree of circumvention to avoid getting soggy feet however thankfully there are enough grass verges to walk upon when the puddles grow to large. You don’t undertake a walk such as this with the intention of arriving home with clean shoes and trousers but there’s a difference between a little splash and walking for five miles with wet shoes and socks. Of course views such as these were a welcome relief and made our progress worthwhile.  A few hardy walkers were walking this beautiful stretch of canal, the obligatory joggers running between Berkhamsted and Hemel and even a few dogs curious to the brave Londoners who had escaped the confines of the capital and were eager to stretch their legs and adventure along the Canal network. There were numerous resplendent views of buildings and nature along our way, and with a clear sky overhead the reflections in the water grew more and more impressive to see. 20190302_114123I’ll readily admit I do have a weakness for a good reflective view, my eyes looking for the imperfections in the water surface, always amazed how perfectly the surface captures the view from above. Here, some distance out and away from the station nothing particularly amazing or wonderful to see but just an example of the almost mirror like water surface of that day, the contrast between the tree’s overhead, the stillness of the water and the image of the house on the surface just a really scenic view to witness. Moments of serenity and peace such as these is part of the reason we decided to undertake this walking challenge along the canal network. You begin to realise the embarrassment of riches the merchants and traders were privy to travelling down to London from Birmingham, certainly in contrast to the grey and sterile motorway environment their modern-day equivalency is treated to today. A short distance later the houses begun to subside for a while, the incursion into the rural environment abated for the moment and the only indication of man’s presence the canal itself and the supporting infrastructure.

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I adore views such as these, where you can stop for a moment and just bask in the simplicity of a bygone era, stopping to close your eyes and picturing the cargo vessels and narrow boats passing through the lock on the voyage to the capital beyond. Today, we are but a short drive back into what we define as London but certainly, historically the journey to the capital from this measure point would be some distance away. With the exception perhaps of the bright pink paint I could have stopped here, if the grass hadn’t been soggy and just watched the world pass me by. There isn’t anything, technically impressive to see, no great feat of engineering with the exception of the canal itself but the simplicity of the lock keepers cottage, the wooden boat moored alongside, the lock closed and maintaining the water levels with the next stretch below, all indicative of a simpler time of life that could just as easily have been lifted from a hundred years ago let alone only a few days. 20190302_115306This part of the Grand Union Canal is certainly what you envision a rural canal network to be, not littered with debris or rubbish just a beautiful stretch of water way, a testament to the work of the Canal and Rivers Trust who work tirelessly with the help of volunteers to ensure the Canals in the UK are kept clear and operational for people to live and work upon. You can’t help but not marvel as you walk along the stoney paths between towns and urban populations at the views before you, its easy to capture views and images such as these when you have an abundance of riches to choose from. Certainly in stark contrast to the views as we approach Hemel Hempstead and the encroaching sprawl of humanity upon the waterways. I am an urban dweller and will readily admit the concerns of the waterways has largely passed me by despite living quite literally a stones throw from the Grand Union Canal in Cowley but there is a genuine sense of shame when you see the 20190302_121448abandoned trolleys, the bobbing bottles, even a forlorn helium filled Birthday balloon abandoned in the Canal beneath the roads and junctions of Hemel. And quite tellingly when we left the town behind us, the serenity and beauty of nature returned somewhat, spoiled perhaps to a degree by the presence of a canal dock and repair yard but I’ll accept the necessity of its inclusion along the water way, far more than the view of various supermarkets and stores along the canal bank. Needless to say, I was thankful when we had passed the larger town and were on the home stretch between Hemel Hempstead and Apsley. I have on occasion given thought to the practicalities of living on one of these boats, beautiful though they are and having spent brief moments of my life aboard one or two they are designed for those of a smaller stature, my tall frame would continually bump into the low ceilings. A reminder of a way of living and travel that I appreciate but not one I could ever see myself to move towards for the simple reason I like my creature comforts and the speed of travel afforded by means in the period we live today.

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Outside Apsley as we left the borders of Hemel we passed beneath the railway tracks, an observable shift as we had ventured out in the morning noticing the canal that was running along side us to the right shifted to the left fairly early on. We had been expecting the change and were duly rewards as we approached a small bridge over the water way and were treated to a train slowing on its journey and giving a contrasting view of travel in the 19th century and the 21st. When we undertake these walks we do often set small markers or check points, when you are doing a long distance walks it helps to have points of interest we can tick off to chart our progression. One such point was the location where the canal shifted to the opposite side, here we knew we were on our final stretch into Apsley and the beautiful buildings by the Canal. 20190302_125506With the view to the right obscured slightly there was a momentary return to the serenity of nature although tempered somewhat by the thickening cloud but thankfully this passed and we were able to progress and enjoy our final walk into Apsley, the presence of the train lines and infrastructure ever a reminder of the impact of man upon the natural environment. The development of housing along the water has been somewhat mixed both in quality and style, some complementing, others a reminder of a cold and bleak aesthetic design. Without undertaking further investigation this was purely based on observation of the immediate area but seemingly with the presence of some attractive buildings there has been some money invested to ensure a presentation consistent with more affluent parts of the canal network, some of the homes present wouldn’t have stood out in Richmond or Molesey. With an impressive and modern looking bridge at our journeys end whilst relatively short in nature it marked a fitting terminus for this latest adventure and walk along the Grand Union Canal. Thankfully, a pub awaited us and provided for a good sit down meal before returning to our car and driving back into London. 20190302_130713It’s always interesting the sense of feeling that comes over you when walking through these towns, these villages, the rural environment. Certainly when we begun three years ago in the affluent Lime Basin with the expensive flats and boats we certainly felt out of sorts, even the walk through the more modest areas leading into Kings Cross and Angel was its own unique experience. Have passed our home this was of course familiar and recognisable, I would say the further we have ventured out into Hertfordshire and beyond the more attuned to an older way of life you become, the canal boats that don’t suggest a cheaper, affordable way of life in the capital but more a sojourn along a water way akin to those that came before them. The old locks, beautifully decorated and maintained to this day, residents enjoying the peace and tranquility of the canal network, no long an arterial connection for transport and cargo that it once serve but now an attraction in its own right. Each area we’ve explored along our walk has had its own, distinct character and aura, the wealth and opulence of the Docklands, the more rural urban tone of Camden and Kings Cross, the homeliness of Little Venice, the familiarity of Cowley and now the simplicity of Apsley. It gives you hope for what we’ll discover next.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Life In The Dark – Natural History Museum

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“A lifetime can be spent in a Magellanic voyage around the trunk of a single tree”

E. O. Wilson

It’s always a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity and means to visit one of the countries leading historical and scientific museums with an ethos and character statement of preserving and cultivating the natural world around us. As a location, it left a formative impression on a great many individuals in their youth who first experienced the wonderment of the dinosaur skeleton ‘Dippy’ when entering the Hintze hall through the large, wooden ornate doors from the Capital beyond. Now, a new generation of individuals witness another creature of the natural world with an equally majestic form, the blue whale an attraction to see that hangs from the ceiling with a stoicism and grandeur that casts a memorable impression on young minds, understanding perhaps for the first time the scope and design of nature. The very purpose of the grand museums in London in their formative years were as repositories of wealth and treasures, obtained through fair means and foul to present to the citizens the strength of Empire and the collections obtained both domestically and across the Globe. Now, reformed as National Museums without the guaranteed entrance income of their smaller competitors each of these institutions functions to both inform and educate around the role they play and their continued purpose into the twenty-first century with various initiatives and guaranteed attractions and events that expand beyond the base material available to view. Having enjoyed membership of the Imperial War Museum last year and now with the Historic Royal Palaces in 2019 I’m always happy to champion these great causes and locations however they exist with guaranteed income through entrance revenue and as such act as a slight deterrent to an extent as opposed to the freely available National Museums. One source of income is through the timed exhibits which traditionally charge an entrance fee not covered with normal entry but present a unique and interesting take on subject matters not traditionally explored to any great depth or detail. This weekend I was fortunate to attend the final day of the Life In The Dark exhibit, a limited time event focusing and showcasing a variety of creatures and specimens whose predication and survival is shaped and framed around the nighttime world devoid and flourishing without sunlight, contrary to our own natural growth and well-being.

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Whether through natural selection, predatory hunting patterns or even evolutionary progress certain animal life has developed and flourished in the absence of sunlight and whilst human progression has favoured exposure to light as a source of protection and comfort, it was fascinating to explore and discover the myriad of species that explore the world by night, and indeed the very immediate environments around us that whilst seemingly devoid of obvious signs of life and movement are swarming with nocturnal activity. As with other areas of the museum the animals were presented in the main, through reproduction, I would imagine, of their final state, certainly if they were real animal products it would be a different prospect entirely but there was something fascinating about being able to have tactile contact with the different species so often just a darting shadow in the night-time sky. Other wings of the Natural History Museum are resplendent with a plethora of exhibits of varying subjects however, by and large they tend to be confined or held between cases. There is something immersive through tactile contact that creates the sensation of connectivity and a different, sensory experience. Touching the fox, the koala for example is entirely different from seeing these creatures and animals in their natural habitats, it demystified their existence and creates a level of understanding between the visitor and the world around them. Accompanying these exhibits were various interactive experiences, a smell zone for example with the different smells and odours emitted by these creatures, an interesting time to be sure but also a sound area and various puzzle elements. Certainly a subjective statement but I’ve been to other paid exhibits that haven’t been closing the next day with far less immersion and interactivity than was on display here. Perhaps, arguably it was framed for a younger audience with the sole visitor station in the exhibit surrounded by children but certainly there was a great deal on show and on display to entertain even the most stoic and cynical London resident. One area I found of interest was a relatively busy movie screening showing a cave diving experience and the human interaction in the dark, for anyone that suffers from claustrophobia not a welcoming experience but certainly fascinating to see the endeavours and methodology man undertakes to survive in an environment and condition the natural world takes in its stride.

One form of life I found slightly off-putting and felt, perhaps even a level of tension were the bats and other flying creatures exhibited. Like arachnids and other phobias, it’s the complete object antithetical natures of these creatures standing in contrast to the prevalent character traits of man. A predominant focus was paid to bats and other such creatures, one section of the exhibit requiring you to traverse a corridor that replicated and simulated a cave environment with lights and sounds of bats coming to life and flying around you. I loathe these forms of sensory deprivation, or to be more accurate sensory over stimulation designed to put you as a visitor in the world of the bat. In contrast however the more sedate world of owls and other such birds was a welcoming and relaxing view-point and information source point to learn about. These creatures look majestic, one of the few nocturnal animals that through cultural assimilation and acceptance isn’t viewed or feared as a menace to our well-being. I’ll accept the condition of having both the majestic and terrifying present to countenance each others merits and benefits, and to revisit an earlier thought why I appreciate these exhibits and the museum in general is the willingness to de stigmatize and provide clarity on the natural world that generates fear through the unknown. Whether I personally retain that knowledge is another matter but for example, learning about the flying fox bat and that they weren’t entirely blind contrary to popular myth was an interesting and informative experience. With the world in its physical state and in the air investigated and explained it was time to traverse the sensory cave exhibit and onwards towards the life aquatic. Having traversed the light show you find yourself encountering the first elements of the water and oceanic world where sea creatures reside far below the surface and away from the suns penetration into the environment below.

The main area of attraction and one of the key influences behind deciding to attend this exhibit was the under water section towards the end that showcased a number of creatures and specimens from beneath the waves, an area and subject of focus that is largely beyond the means of most individuals to explore and witness, certainly to the degree that these sea life would find themselves. In contrast to the bat exhibit and corridor there was a quiet serenity as the light adjusted and changed to simulate the effect of the sun entering the water below, some of these creatures were fascinating to see, their remains and shells unlike any species found on the surface. Others were of a design almost from a science fiction movie with a squid creature looking almost identical to a scene from Aliens. Birds and mammals exist within our natural environment, perhaps outside our light spectrum and preference opting to reside and live in the shadows and the dark but there is a familiarity and recognition. These creatures by design and evolution live in a world entirely alien and inhospitable to human life and survival, the very pressure at that depth un survivable without extreme resistant equipment. And yet, life flourishes in the absence of the critical components we require and only for exhibits such as these do we get to witness their presence and being. At the very least the specimens on show were fascinating and engaging to witness and sea, the remaining areas of life beneath the ocean an assortment of living fish from closer to our understanding, blind fish from mexico a curiosity given the evolutionary path of species on this planet to have some form of sensory organ for site. Through studying even for the briefest of moments the various evolutionary paths life took on this single planet you begin to grasp even but a fraction of the methodology and understanding of Darwin who viewed Nature as a progressive dynamic system to be studied and respected for the range and potential scope of progress. How life flourishes at depths that would crush a human body, how fish have developed without eyes, how Koalas have evolved to see at night beyond our limitations. The highlight for me and influential driver behind going to this exhibit was the underwater experience but overall I felt this was a well-balanced and informative event showcasing a number of animal species with their unique footprint upon the world.

With a plethora of free exhibits and areas there is a substantial amount to see at the museum beyond this exhibition and quite simply, now that it’s ended whether the content within is added back into the general museum or put into storage is a question entirely for the curators. Have a paid membership there are often tours of the additional items and pieces the museum for various reasons cannot display on offer that do shed light and highlight the fact that having a museum in central London is problematic when attempting to showcase additional displays beyond those that are popular and draw the most crowds. A situation of conflicting interests found in many of the major cities across the Western World from Washington DC to Vienna with leading Natural History Museums and limited room to exhibit the many wonders contained within. The dinosaur exhibit for a time was one of its greatest attractions but for prosperity has had to be radically reduced down to a shadow of its former self, the main hall dinosaur now gone replaced by the blue whale. Space is a premium and as such exhibits such as these show casing and focusing on a particular area of interest are a rarity and privilege to attend and view, both educational with the information on display but also from a tactile and visceral perspective just enjoyable to attend. Now I may not enjoy bats, or the illusion of a swarm of them flying around me but I’d rather live in a world and eco-system as diverse this than see it eradicated from the planet. I hope you enjoyed this brief review, it was an enjoyable event to attend even with such short notice. Thank you for reading.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Visits Banqueting House

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“A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight”

Robertson Davies

Banqueting House, completed in 1622 in the neo-classical style is the last surviving structure of the Palace of Whitehall, a building and structure now almost entirely erased from the landscape with the sole exception of this one building. With a ceiling designed by the Flemish artist Peter Rubens, and a historical legacy that see’s the venue continue to serve a similar function as a cultural and political hub, maintained now under the oversight of the Historic Royal Palaces charity, the building is quite rightly a national monument, whose scope and grandeur are a sight to behold. As a resident of the capital city, having traversed this historic thoroughfare on a number of occasions, admittedly a great deal of the buildings with the white, Portland stone aesthetic tend to have a certain overwhelming and generalised, consistent finish with only the more notable structures having any real prominence or lasting impression. Horse Guards Parade for example and its prominent guard stands and mounted horses, the gates of Downing Street and home to the Prime Minister, small distinctive features that leave an impression. Without an intention to visit this location, I have passed by the building on many occasion without taking in its presence or prominence, another white government building now akin to its neighbours and peers it loses its unique, distinctive character and personality. Within however, the two storey central chamber with its ornate, grand designed roof displaying a mixture of regal and religious imagery, beneath a undercroft telling the lineage and history of the building and function it has served since its construction and continues to serve to date. My motivation came from obtaining and enjoying membership with the Historic Royal Palaces in August last year, a charity that maintains the upkeep of a half-dozen locations in and around London including most notably Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London amongst others. Having visited those locations on a number of occasions I was curious to visit this lesser known building in the heart of London.

My knowledge of London’s architectural history is mostly within my lifetime, a witness to the many buildings and locations that have gained prominence and to an extent dominance over the skyline. The rejuvenation and transformation of the docklands and the city was a remarkable accomplishment to witness and see, even the many new sky scrapers and buildings that now stand around the heart of the capital have transformed the once prominent classical architecture that gave London its character. In Whitehall, that prominence of that style remains and retains some of the history of design that once populated the city. However, as with many elements of history what I had taken for granted was quite how recent a number of buildings in and around Whitehall were in contrast to the Banqueting House itself. Thankfully, within the undercroft of the building many historical images and illustrations remain and show how this building stood and the function it played in the larger Palace of Whitehall, a structure I had no knowledge of before today although given its destruction many centuries ago perhaps a little historical ignorance can be forgiven. All that remains today are echoes of this former palace that once rivalled the majesty and scope of Westminster, the Banqueting House itself the sole structure with landscape transformed from the green and open fields and parks that surrounded the palace to the central heart of Government that exists today. Following its destruction there were plans designed to reconstruct the palace by Sir Christopher Wren however these were not followed through so now all that remains is the building in the classical style adopting the white Portland Stone of its neighbours and seemingly inconspicuous to those passing along this road between Parliament and Trafalgar Square. The building has served a variety of different events, both state and private with a number of recent prominent figures using the location to address an audience in recent years including Presidents and foreign leaders and governments. It continues to serve as a functioning venue, to sit beneath the inspiring painted roof and grandeur of the room is humbling, to stop and pause and consider the history and events that have transpired. Indeed, for individuals who share my namesake those events have not always been to our benefit.

On arrival you are directed to the undercroft, a large chamber containing the various amenities and facilities of the location. A welcoming space the room is set up to tell a brief history and story of the building with a short video going over some of the key celebrations and events that transpired since its construction towards the end of the 17th century. There is scope for a great deal more information to be displayed and presented for visitors, as a member we are provided with regular correspondence from the organization and a recent message suggested plans were in place to rejuvenate and improve the Banqueting House building. One such area without question would be the level of detail and information available to visitors to see and learn about the venue, I enjoyed what was there, but certainly there is a great deal more scope to learn about the Palace that once stood in Whitehall. Whether this comes to pass is another question but certainly an attempt to improve some of the history on display would be a tremendous service to visitors attending, the brief video was informative but personally you would imagine those that pay to visit a historical palace location are doing so as an informative experience. One aspect I found fascinating was the historical pictures and images on display as shown above of the palace in its former glory, these however consigned to a rear wall with no real prominence. A single cabinet displays a brief summary of the monarchy of the Stuart household with a few interesting dioramas and models but the history buff in me adores insights and information where possible, I just feel this was lacking somewhat, certainly room for improvement. I sense and would imagine as a working location that relies at least for a substantial part of its income there is a necessity to keep as much of the undercroft and the main hall itself relatively clear and easily clearable and maneuverable to allow functions and ceremonies to move in easily and swiftly. In fact, the audio guide provided makes clear as a location they take pride in clearing the limited displays on show away swiftly to move tables and chairs for functions and meals in on a regular basis, I appreciate it may generate income, seemingly this is at the expense of more permanent attractions and displays that serve its other function as a visitors attraction.

The main hall itself is a spectacular location to visit and see, its ceiling an amazing piece of artwork as competent and grand an attraction as its counterpart in Greenwich for example but equally, visibly beginning to shows signs of a need for some form of conservation or preservation work to restore it to its former pristine state. Ascending from the main entry hall when you enter the hall from the main entrance way you are treated to the full scope and grandeur of the hall with the main attraction visible immediately. I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of locations across Europe in recent years with this style from the painted ceilings of the Vatican to the Schönbrunn Palace in Austria, whilst the message and meaning is lost on me to a degree I do appreciate the artistic merit on show, the depth of the paintings, the white stone pillars and the gold leaf edges of the support beams. One aspect I do find fascinating to witness are the upper balconies, no longer accessible on a standard visit but a feature seen in European architecture from a similar period allowing additional visitors to witness the ceremony below. If modern architecture by necessity is concerned with utilising available space to its most efficient extent, there is a clear contrast to this more grandiose and opulent design methodology that was built around making a statement. Taking a moment to stand, sit, even lay down on the bean bags and just stare up at the ceiling you begin to realise the scope of this hall and the function it played in London society at that time. The views of Horse Guards Parade and Whitehall from the windows are amazing, the hall is spacious with a great deal of natural light and warmth flooding into the interior. With minimal noise from the outside, you are very much left to just sit back and take in the interior for its scope and history before your visit conclude. With little information on show or displays to provide any additional historical context you can spend perhaps an hour or two on your visit, there is clear scope for improvement in this area. The price is relatively low in contrast to other attractions of a similar nature, indeed for a venue in central London it is remarkable value with an amazing ceiling to see and as a member with free entry I’m glad I took it upon myself to visit this attraction and take time away from the Tower. I would love additional context and history to learn, perhaps in the future this will be the direction the venue takes. It’s not everyday you learn about a forgotten palace in the heart of London, and Banqueting House feels like a morsel of the history of this location.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.

Walking The Uxbridge Vine Street to West Drayton Railway Line

 

Uxbridge OSWith the publication of the Beeching reports in 1963 and 1965 respectively, there followed a contentious, progressive plan to restructure the nature and structure of the countries transport network. Shifting from a predominantly based rail infrastructure and expanding onto a growing road network with freight and passenger transport utilising this new expansive means of travel. As a consequence, a substantial amount of routes and stations were closed, no longer commercially viable for use resulting on some occasions in a devastating impact on both communities and regions alike for those that failed to prepare and adapt to this changing tide of consumer demand. With a result of closure of up to 5000 miles of railway lines there was understandable consternation as to which routes would be cut and axed, the directive being to reduce the financial losses experienced by the railway whilst also cutting the subsidies paid by the Government to support the transport sector. Some routes and lines were saved through protest, others converted to heritage lines, the North York Moors Railway an example of such that continues to operate and function as a profitable tourist attraction. Others however were closed, the track and infrastructure removed and returned in some cases to nature with only ghosts remaining of their former use. Other’s sold and developed for more commercially viable alternatives.

Last Spring I learnt of the Parkland walk, an open nature walk that follows the old route between Crystal Palace and Finsbury Park that was closed in the last century. A fascinating track that cuts through the suburban environment between two heavily residential areas, a thin strip of nature intersecting the concrete jungle. There was something wonderfully intriguing about this walk, how the path forged by industry with its straight sections and concrete platforms has largely been returned to its natural straight but now acted as a viable open and green experience for residents and visitors alike to explore this part of North London away from the cars and industry that surround the route. I have great respect for the local council and authorities for not giving in and developing this area and preserving the legacy of this route for prosperity sake allowing visitors to experience not only a part of railways legacy but also just making use of a former, industrial cut through and turning it into a glorious open environment to explore. I was always aware that close to where I live a station had once existed, fortunately in the best, British tradition Street names tend to remain long after the reasoning behind their placement has passed. As such, a great many Station Roads exist today where their namesake building has been consigned to history. This led me to research a small corner of my area and explore the recent history, discovering a branch line once existed between Uxbridge where I work and West Drayton close to where I live passing through my small town of Cowley I call home. I was curious to explore this route, what remains of the impact on the area and whether any signs of the old railway can be seen.

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In 1962, the branch line of the Great Western Railway between West Drayton to Uxbridge closed to passenger traffic with the cessation of all further services after 1964, the arrival and prominence of the new Metropolitan railway terminus a short distance away driving passengers away from the mainline route into Paddington and onto the London Underground. Little remains today that would indicate the area and lands former use but following the route from its terminus station to the point where it joins the present day line provides some clues and indications of what once stood. Today, following in the footsteps of this line reveals a substantial degree of construction and landscaping that has eradicated much of the railways foundations and footprints, giving rise to where now stands Brunel University and the surrounding housing and accommodation. Whilst not commercially viable in its historical context and now, mostly but a memory none the less this historical and forgotten railway line remains an important aspect of this town’s history and a fascinating and beautiful walk to undertake in the right circumstances. Thanks in part to the timeframe of its removal there does remain photographs and images of the old infrastructure and station that allows me to piece together where the old buildings stood and what impact the railways had on the landscape on areas around me both familiar and instantly recognisable when you understand how and why they were developed as they were.

Vine Street was the northern most terminus of this branch line, little indication standing today where the station once stood that provided an important economic and social link into Central London. With the help of historic photography we can understand where the station entrance stood with the now, closed Randall’s department store acting as a focal point to gauge the location of the building. An unimposing brick word facade, the terminal station lacked the aesthetic charm of its historical contemporary buildings, contrasting somewhat to the surrounding buildings and structures of the day.  Today, with the exception of the now closed, department store much of the surrounding buildings and business have adopted a warm sand coloured facade and largely replaced those that once stood. The bus network signage visible in the past is now removed with a permanent stopping point located further up Vine Street close to where it intersects with the High Street. Much of the rail network was removed with the growing dominance of car and road transportation and an expanding populace that required habitation, and as such the commerciability of this line was viewed as being unmet. Rightly or wrongly the area has transformed around this site to the point only scant traces remain, financially viable but a lost treasure of history. The branch line served as the town’s main connection to the centre of London joining the mainline into Paddington, a single track approach whose foundations can be seen in the geology of the terrain especially around the housing estates where visible elevations and dips remain.

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Whilst we now only have images to remind us of this former station I do have a fascination in the historical aspect of this location, how the terrain and area has transformed significantly from old industrial land to its present incarnation that would give no clue as to its former purpose. Purely from the historical basis where the bypass road now connects the roundabout at Cross Street to the Uxbridge Road, that entire area was once the track that cut through the residential areas to the South and down towards Cowley. We can see from the pictures the Terminus station deposited passengers onto Vine Street with it somewhat ornate glass roof covering. I adore historical stations such as these, and whilst the facade of the exterior wasn’t as impressive there’s a welcome charm to the station that once stood here. In contrast, today the Hertz building now stands, impressive in it own merits but a real shame that none of this history was preserved for posterity sake. As with many historical locations small clues do still remain, according to OS maps of the period where the council building now stands stood the old Cricket Ground, the connecting road now off Vine Street that leads to the Council Car Parks retains this link to the past titled Cricket Field Road. An entirely inconsequential clue but fascinating to realise and pick up.

Using the OS Map as a guide, historically we can see Whitehall Road ran parallel to the track moving away from Vine Street and into the suburbs. At the time the bypass connection didn’t exist requiring some circumvention around the residential streets before joining the Uxbridge Road. Today, the open space of the cricket ground has been reclaimed by urbanization with extensive construction work seeing the emergence of the council building in its current place as well as the bypass and the council car park. That the open relatively flat green verge remains does give some indication the area may have been of use to the railways historically. Traditionally, track is laid on a flat gradient and as such naturally flat terrain or that landscaped to be flat is a necessity. One of the interesting features I realised further on my walk was the absence of tree’s or in some cases the formality and pattern of the tree’s following a relatively straight line. More pronounced towards Brunel University this is the biggest clue as to the railways presence and a real treat when you are looking for signs of the lines impact.

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Looking at the historical maps of the area we can trace the Railway line south along Whitehall Road which ran parallel to the railway tracks and saw the development of intensive habitat construction although in parts the requirement to fill in the trenches and landscape was built around. One of the cleverest uses of the former railway line was towards the junction of Whitehall Road with The Greenway, up until this point a row of houses had been built removing any traces of the line. Towards the end of the houses a specific row had been pushed back, whether by design or circumstance I wouldn’t comment on. It does have a unique feature on that stretch of housing with a below ground level parking facility where the track originally ran. Walking along this access road is one of the few occasions where you can follow in the tracks of the old branch line up until the end of the route where it ends with a newly built incline. Going back up to street level and walking a short distance up the road reveals the natural dip again where the track would have passed through presumably a tunnel with the road level elevated above the old track bed. Whilst development and planning has necessitated the need to construct and remove any traces of the line in the town centre, walking away and into the houses and residence down provide for green open areas that now serve a different function but give clues to its former purpose. Coming across this incline and space where the tracks would have passed was fascinating to see.

Crossing over Whitehall Road, the route of the old railway line has now been largely erased or removed from the terrain, Uxbridge High School present where trains may have emerged previously on their approach to Cowley from the tunnel. As observed before nearly all the tree’s follow a straight line pattern with an attempt to preserve this uniformity. On reaching Brunel it is interesting to observe the artificial straight lines that were carved for the use of the Railway and how they remain today, especially around the more open and green spaces of the university. It’s an aspect at ground level you attribute to some form of design but on inspection when looking at the route from a satellite perspective gives clear indication of a deliberate planning act, after all God doesn’t build in straight lines. The university retains and displays some of the rare clues of the lands history with a red steel girder one of the one few indications of the railways presence now standing in one of their annex car parks away from street view and access. Historically, the old approach way to Cowley Station was accessible with historical remains and artifacts available to see, part of this walk was an effort to witness and see as much of these remains and treasures as possible. Sadly now, in recent years the area has become overgrown and somewhat inaccessible, the only entrance way locked which means unfortunately what now remains down there has been reclaimed by nature. This was one area I was hoping to see and do wish at some point some effort is made to clear and open up for visitors to attend, is there a great interest? perhaps minor at best but it remains part of the history of Hillingdon and an aspect personally, I would postulate would be fascinating to a younger generation to learn what once stood there up until only a few decades ago.

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The starting point and inspiration for undertaking this walk was the observation of ‘Station Road’ in Cowley retaining its name long after the railway buildings and infrastructure had been removed and demolished, all physical traces erased from the landscape. A cultural practice shared across the Atlantic, the common parlance and tradition of titling your locations after their focal anchor point or feature, Church Street or Station Road for example remains to this day and always provides a fascinating clue as to the origin and purpose of the thoroughfare. Little remains now as you approach the curve in the road with the exception of an elevated hump which was filled in to provide solidity and structure. It was the one area I had the greatest interest to explore and identify any signs of the lost railway line, the sad truth is little remains today with the exception of the nature preserve beside Brunel University. Equipment and track once used now hidden amongst the tree’s and foliage. The North Side of road facing towards Uxbridge and the nature reserve besides Brunel does provide some clues, metal pipes and housings once used by the line, in contrast the south side has now been entirely developed and all traces of the Railway line removed with the purpose of development.

Leaving the former site of Cowley Station and beginning the final walk towards West Drayton follows a path that perhaps was at one point the access route for the platforms or station building although today that largely remains conjecture. Moving a little further down the path and turning back towards the former station site does grant at least a comparative view of the area as it was to how it has been developed and exists today. In truth, a residential suburb with little resemblance to its former use but an interesting view to compare to. The last comparative and notable view-point on this walk occurs quite near to this spot a bit further on towards West Drayton when you come to the spot where a tunnel once existed going under Peachey Lane. As with the same type of spot in Cowley the road embankment was built up as the tunnel itself was infilled to provide solidity for the road above. Today, all that remains is an open and green area where the tunnel once stood however the natural incline and gradient remains and just serves to remind the idle explorer that at one point in history you could have been crossing the road or walking home and seen a steam locomotive come rushing past on its way to Central London.

Cowley Station

The railway itself from this point forward followed what now stands today as St Helen’s and St Clement’s Close, two unremarkable roads that retained the relatively straight nature of a railway track foundation all the way to the Cowley Road that stood both historically and today. With the intensive construction and redevelopment there are no visible traces of the old railway tracks nor would I expect there to be. Once last area I was curious to see was where the tracks passed over the Cowley Road. Historically, I have been unable to locate or determine what form or shape this took. Using the OS maps as a guide you can judge where the tracks passed through tunnels which is supported by the geology and terrain of the area. At this point on the Cowley Road it would suggest there was either a level crossing or bridge that passed over. With no historical street furniture remaining or indents on the road for obvious reasons I would postulate perhaps at one point there was a bridge given the width and usage of this road but without historical images or photo’s this is entirely a guess. When I emerged from the path that followed the tracks I was looking out for old concrete blocks or any sign of bridge construction work that had been eroded or removed over time, today, as with much of this old branch line little remains.

One interesting aspect I did pick up, whether intentional or not was the placement and direction of the Carpetright building in the industrial site that now stands where the Railway passed through and crossed the Grand Union Canal before curving around and connecting to the Great Western Railway. Historical records would suggest there was some elements of construction and development around the time of the lines closure which is consistent with either residence or commercial enterprises being placed close to the railway lines. What I find interesting to observe is where Carpetright today, directionally follows the exact route of the railway with the remaining offices and stores surrounding almost all taking a uniform approach in their design and direction. That this one building that stands on the former tracks of the railway has the same placement and direction is curious to observe. Leaving the estate and reaching the Grand Union Canal, as observed by map where a bridge once crossed the canal this has long been removed from the landscape. A foot bridge stands today that serves a similar role but to follow the old track route faithfully does require some circumvention before you rejoin the old route where housing now stands on the West Side of the Canal. This area of Hillingdon has a richness of natural beauty thanks in part to the extensive redevelopment of the land with Little Britain Lake a relatively recent construct but one that has transformed the landscape. Where the railway crossed over the canal has now been erased, all signs of the bridge removed, some elevation remains but is inaccessible to those following this route.

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The last stretch of the walk is a relatively pleasant stroll behind the new housing estate constructed on the land between the Grand Union Canal and the Fray’s River. Using the OS maps as a source point the pathway that run’s parallel to the river before joining Tavistock Road follows the same route as the old railway line which was laid beside the Fray’s River. Much of what stands today as Wraysbury Drive would seem to be the old railway route which followed from the supposed crossing point between Argos and Carpetright would match the OS maps in terms of rail placement. Conjecture of course for the most part but based on the objective evidence at hand a fairly safe proposition. For the most part this has now been converted to residential premises but the area is a wonderfully open and green space, a lovely part of South Hillingdon to walk through on a nice clear day with the open nature reserves and lakes to the West. Approaching the mainline you begin to see more of the existing railway track and infrastructure including the bridge where the existing freight line still branches off, the immediate surrounding landscape transformed from an open and green area of serenity to a densely urban construction zone. This point seem’s to be historically where the branch line veered away having left West Drayton to continue to Uxbridge. Journey’s end brings us to West Drayton Mainline Station, slated for renovation with the addition of the Crossrail connection into Central London in the near future.

On reflection, a relatively short walk at just over 3 miles taking in a broad scope of Hillingdon and the surrounding areas but I would propose a fairly indicative summary of the transformation of this area over the past five decades. From the complete transformation and development of Uxbridge town centre, the residential developments and construction with ghosts and elements of the impact of the track placement in the terrain featured and utilised in the parking lots and open green spaces. To the new housing projects towards Yiewsley that has removed nearly all signs of urbanization and become an area of peace and natural beauty. I would still suggest for a line that connected the town during its growth and expansion to the nation’s capital before its removal there is still a role to play for its legacy in the area’s history. So much has been removed or destroyed only scant traces now remain, the nature reserve at Brunel the principal source of memories and artifacts which is a great shame to see it largely unkept and out of control now. Perhaps the adage, out of sight, out of mind is prevalent, an attempt to remove all traces where possible from memory and forget the role this small branch line played in the town’s history given its commercial failures resulting in the decision to close the line. Traces remain on the landscape, most noticeably near Brunel and Cowley, whilst the line itself is long gone now, consigned to history for prosperity it would be sad to its memory erased entirely. Hillingdon is a beautiful borough to explore, a notable effort made to remember the role it played during military conflict with the Battle of Britain Bunker as an example, I would champion any effort to preserve what little remains at Brunel University today.

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Visits Castelo de São Jorge

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“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there”

Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon

Overlooking the historic city of Lisbon, the Castelo de São Jorge or Saint George Castle to give it its English translation is a historical structure and former citadel whose foundations and origins can be traced back to historical settlements from 2 BC with historical excavation work revealing a settled presence perhaps even further back. As part of recent excavation work conducted during an expansion of a parking area to the East of the main castle signs of Iron Age structures, Christian and Muslim buildings were discovered and whose ruins have now been revealed for groups to visit under guidance to learn and witness an amazing aspect of the cities and especially this location’s history. As with much of the city, the Castle suffered significant damage in the earthquake of 1755 however with recognition of its importance and place in the city’s history significant restoration work has taken place to return the citadel to its former state and now serves as one of the cities main attractions on a visit to Lisbon. With a commanding hilltop view that dominates the skyline both during the day and offers a striking image after dusk from the exterior the Castle is a magnificent location to see from below, within a treasure trove of artifacts and remains that tell but a fraction of the history and legacy of this location. In a nation defined historically for acting as somewhat of a crossroads between cultures and religions, with Lisbon serving both Islamic and Christian occupation at critical junctures in its history I always find it fascinating to visit and explore ruins and locations in their natural state. Whilst what stands day is very much a restorative process, the passion and commitment to return the structure to what it once resembled is remarkable to see and understandably stands as a national monument reflective of the role it has played over the course of millenia.

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Our arrival on our visit was by the less historical but equally renowned Tram 28, the old carriage famous for its appeal to those visiting from abroad winds its way up the back streets from its starting point close to Rossio Square and through the historic district before descending down and moving onto the university. As a means to see the cities more renowned areas of attraction it serves a purpose, remarkable for the fact its a functioning and public transport service so attracts no additional fares beyond a daily ticket to ride. Of course, those who do ride this Tram are predominantly tourists, and yes on this occasion we served that role and as such on a clear nice day the Tram will more often than to be filled to capacity as it makes its ascent. It’s not a comfortable ride, pick pockets are rife and progress is frequently blocked by parked cars and lorries on delivery, but its part of the whimsical old world experience of the city and if you ever visit Lisbon I would implore you to try it just once. After that, do what the locals do and get one of the many more modern and air-conditioned buses that serve the city, a far more pleasant, perhaps less nostalgic but certainly more efficient trip at no extra cost. From out Hotel this was the most direct option so we boarded the Tram and made our way up the Hill stopping at the Portas do Sol with some magnificent views of the Alfama district with its distinctive terracotta roof tops and painted buildings. I adore this view of the city with hints of the Algarve and Mediterranean but it does leave you with the impression of an area, historically known for its poverty and degradation being transformed through economics and prosperity that will be unrecognisable a decade from now.

 

Once you ascend to the hilltop and enter the castle you are treated to the reconstructed and restored grounds and courtyards with a stunning view of the city to the west. In contrast to its counterparts in other European cities information is somewhat scarce on your journey around the grounds at least from a visual perspective but tours are offered frequently in a multitude of languages in addition to maps and audio guides so your visit is well catered for information should you wish to partake. Leaving the entry courtyard with its many tree’s and view points the castle and grounds are relatively open planned for you to explore at your whim. On our visit we walked around the outer walls which would have been the ramparts at one point in history with the cannons aiming out over the city. Whenever I visit a castle or location such as these the thought does always cross my minds if everyone vanished tomorrow and someone or something arrived, witnessing this scene out of context would be hard to explain or understand, preserved or reconstructed cannons aiming out on the modern civilian populace. The grounds are stunning, and remarkably clean with clear walk ways to follow and explore and different paths to follow depending on your predication. Once we had explored the outer wall we entered the castle interior which is an interesting structure to explore with the observation tower an interesting feat with its reflective mirrors that overlook the city. Climbing the various towers, walking the inner ramparts and exploring the open court yards is interesting to see but I did come away from the castle feeling somewhat lacking in content with much of the artifacts and discoveries retained by the attraction confined to the museum located within the citadel. It does provide some remarkable views of the city below but in contrast to other more, recent in comparison attractions such as Hampton Court I would have anticipated more of the history to be on show. I would imagine a great deal of the treasures located have been preserved in more dedicated purpose-built museums, the castle is open and a victim to the elements, to preserve history requires an environment serving that purpose.

 

The highlight of our visit to this attraction was the tour of the excavations located outside the castle walls to the East. On my last visit I didn’t have the opportunity to go down into the ruins themselves, this is accessible through a guided tour only for prosperity sake so should you be constrained by time or other factors you may not have the luxury of waiting for the right time to visit. Thankfully we arrived just as a tour was about to commence. Walking down into the site was an amazing experience, there is a historical resonance experienced through tactile contact and connection that is hard to explain but impossible to ignore or overlook, stepping in the literal footsteps of history as you walk amongst the ruins, witnessing the excavation work that has transpired, the echoes of walls and structures we take for granted as the very foundations of our residence but seeing those same shapes at such a close level was amazing to see. Being afforded the luxury of having a tour guide with a great knowledge of the history of this area, providing an explanation on the iron age buildings, the Christian and Muslim settlements was a fascinating dissection of the history of the city and the various cultures that have formed Lisbon as it stands today. What astonished me about this specific area of the castle was the simple fact the area was being cleared for an extension of a car park and quickly revealed in short order an amazing array of archeological treasures that thankfully have been largely retained and displayed at the Citadels museum. There is a uniformity and pattern to the area with each specific structure and building arranged neatly giving the impression of design and pattern in their location that brought a question to mind of whether beneath the Muslim and Christian buildings other Iron Age structures could be found, the simple answer is yes there are possible remains beneath however in its current state this would require the destruction of the other remains. As they have been recovered and restored you are presented a historical impression of a period spanning centuries of how cultures adapted and settled this location on the Western European coast.

 

As our visit drew to a conclusion we were treated to one last amazing site, an abundance of peacocks residing in the grounds and tree’s of the castle. Walking around with aplomb, their tail feathers up in the air and their distinctive cry it was an amazing spectacle to witness that transfixed a number of visitors with the sheer number and relative carefree attitude on show. Depending on your orientation around the castle of course you could come across these magnificent birds earlier however going on a clockwise orientation allows you to experience this view as a finale to your visit. There is an abundance of history to this location and the function it has served across history from its original use during the Roman settlement to its present stature and status as a national monument and treasure. I’m grateful it hasn’t succumbed to the living history notion that see’s staff in period costumes preserving a dignified stature to the castle and allows you to explore the grounds at your own pace and time. With some amazing views of Lisbon especially on a clear day to the West it gives you a real impression of the city but also provides context and understanding of the militaristic and defensive nature the fort and castle once served given its vantage point on higher ground. Whether historical locations such as this continues to see favour with a newer generation more accustomed to a plethora of information and interactivity is a valid question and concern, how does a restored citadel remain culturally significant, relevant and prominent in society is questionnable but certainly for me at least, it enshrined and delivered an historical experience where as long as you have guides and staff to deliver history in an engaging and open fashion it will continue to serve a purpose and attract praise and recognition like it does.

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If you have enjoyed reading this blog please feel free to share and comment, you can like the Leeds Bear Facebook or Twitter page and comment and share here, alternatively for a more in-depth look at Bears various adventures he keeps his own Instagram account and enjoys visitors here. I always enjoy hearing from those who have enjoyed Bear’s adventures and want to grow his audience as he travels the world.