The South West of England: Pt 6 – Cheddar (For Cheddar Gorge), Somerset

Our next destination was the small village of Cheddar, which we actually stumbled upon by accident. After I spotted a large Market Cross we decided to stop, and after that, we decided to explore the village, and came across one of Somerset’s most incredible sights…

Cheddar:

Status: Sedgemoor District, Somerset, Village, England

Date: 07/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping:  N/A

Attractions: Cheddar Gorge, Market Cross, Cheddar Cheese, Cheddar Caves etc

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As we were driving through, on the way back towards Weston-super-Mare and our hotel, I spotted this rather impressive Market Cross in the centre of the village. We pulled over to have a look, and examined the fine stonework. It was first built in the 15th Century, and looking at the design we thought it looked like the exterior arches were a later add on, as the rest of the cross looks standalone. This turned out to be correct, as the arches were added in the 1600’s, and replaced in 1834, providing a place for a small covered market in the village.

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We moved on through the village, after remembering about Cheddar’s most famous landmark, the Cheddar Gorge. On our way there we passed down some pleasant streets, past the quaint buildings that make up the village. Sadly we were a bit pressed for time, and only really had time to visit the Gorge so we had to miss out some of the hidden gems in the village, although hopefully we shall visit again sometime.

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We did however pass Cheddar Methodist Church, shown on the left with the solar panels on the roof. So far I am unable to find a date for it’s construction, but its a lovely little building in a nice rural village.

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We were soon approaching the entrance to the Gorge, which isn’t so much a physical entrance but the crossing of a boundary. The Gorge is 100% free to visit, at any time of day as a normal public road runs through the centre. On the way up to the Gorge we passed “Cheddar Rising”, the body of water in the picture. This is part of the Cheddar Yeo, a river which began high in the Somerset Hills and ran underground, underneath the Gorge itself until this point when it emerges. From here it runs on to the River Axe near Rackley.

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There are numerous Caves on the way up to the Gorge, and they are open to the public for a small fee. A variety of other shops also line the entrance, where you can see the beginning of the stunning cliffs that will evolve into the Gorge further up the hill. There is also a National Trust visitor centre, as they own the caves here.

You may be wondering if the village has any connection with Cheddar Cheese? It was of course the birthplace of Britains favourite (and the USA’s 2nd favourite) Cheese, Cheddar. There is only one dairy left in the village that still produces the Cheese, varieties of which can be found all over the country. There are many foods in the UK that are protected by their place of origin, as in they can only be called their trademark name if they are made in a certain place. Cheddar on it’s own has no such protected status, although the many variety, which comes from this area of England, is called “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar” and can only be called this if it is made in either Somerset, Cornwall, Devon or Dorset. Cheddar is my favourite Cheese and its great to visit it’s birthplace here in Somerset. We did pass the Cheddar Factory, which is located a little bit further back down the hill, on the way up to the Gorge.

This is the Gorge itself, one of the most incredible places we have visited in the UK. The towering cliffs rise up on either side of you, and parts of it look like something you would have seen in Jurassic Times. I half expected a Pterodactyl to come flying over the top!

The Gorge is made out of Limestone, and was created well over 13000 years ago, and was created when frozen soil, which covered this area, melted during warm months and ran along what was the original surface of the hill. The Gorge was gradually carved out by the water, and some of it seeped through the Limestone to create the fantastic caves beneath. This was made possible thanks to the Limestone being permeable. When the erosion was originally being carried out in the Gorge a river would have run through the centre but it eventually receded beneath the surface, linking in with the Cheddar Yeo which exits the Gorge and runs through the village.

At it’s tallest, the cliffs stand 449 feet above the road. There are more caves located in the Gorge, and one of them, called Gough’s Cave, is quite famous. The oldest complete skeleton in Britain was found here, and nicknamed Cheddar Man, who lived around 7150 BC. The cave also contains a large portion of the Cheddar Yeo, and is the location where it flows out of the Gorge. The river and it’s surrounding waterways make up the largest underground river system in the whole country. The Gorge just becomes more and more fascinating the further you explore.

Cheddar is a stunning place, and home to a truly incredible landmark. There are other things to see in the village, from St Andrew’s Church to the Cheddar Reservoir. Travel wise there is no train station, but the village is quite close to the A38 (South for Burnham-on-Sea, North for Bristol) and the M5 Motorway (South for Exeter, North for Bristol & Birmingham). Other major local places include the city of Wells, with its famous Cathedral. We returned to the hotel to rest up for our next day of travelling, which took us around the major city of Bristol, and the historic Roman City of Bath…

The South West of England: Pt 5 – Glastonbury, Somerset

Our next stop was the town of Glastonbury, although I think we were a bit too late for the festival! The architecture is stunning in the town, so we pulled up to explore…

Glastonbury:

Status: Mendip District, Somerset, Town, England

Date: 07/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Glastonbury Abbey, Glastonbury Tor, Town Hall, Abbey Gate, Market Cross, Abbey Kitchen, Sigeric Statue, King Arthur’s Tomb, Vestry Hall, Tribunal House, Market Square, St John’s Church, George & Pilgrim Hotel etc

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We parked up next to the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, the main entrance to which is located through a large stone arch on the main street, shown on the above picture. It’s a stunning building, and is one of the oldest in the town. The East Side (out of shot) is the oldest section, having been built in 1133, with the rest following in the 14th Century. The Gate includes a Porters Lodge, which is the 2 storey high section of the building to the left of the main archway. There was once another storey on the main gate from medieval times, but this has long since been lost.

The section of the Gate facing out onto the high street, and shown above is the South/West End, and consists of the original central arch, and a 2nd smaller medieval arch to the left, which was built as the entrance to St Patrick’s Almshouses around 1512/1517, which housed a group of Women here. The pathway lead up the South side of the building towards the Almshouses. St Patricks Chapel was then built to serve the Almshouses, and they all lie within the main Abbey Complex. The Almshouses themselves have now been demolished, although the Chapel survives, and I shall talk about it later on in this post.

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To the right of the Gatehouse is the impressive Town Hall, from 1818. It looks quite similar to Accrington Town Hall in Lancashire, and it fits in perfectly with the other historic buildings in the town. Both the Gatehouse and the Town Hall are Grade II Listed Buildings.

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Moving into the Abbey Grounds (there is a charge to enter the grounds but it’s well worth the money for what’s inside) we encountered the aforementioned St Patrick’s Chapel, a quaint Chapel to the left of the Museum building which you enter after paying. As noted above it was built around 1512 – 1517, to serve the new Almshouses that had been built. Inside it is well decorated with a large Stained Glass Window at the back of the Chapel (shown above). A small bell sits on top of the tower, with a rope leading down into the main body of the Chapel, which can be pulled to ring it. On the front wall of the Chapel (at the far side of the picture) is a large painted mural showing three women across the wall, with two angels above them at the top.

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Round at the front of the Chapel, in a small courtyard area, is the above statue. It is called “Sigeric”, and was sculpted by Heath Burnley. The plaque beneath it states that it is there:

“To remind us of the humility and achievements of Sigeric, 10th century monk of Glastonbury Abbey, Archbishop of Canterbury and of those like him who built up this place to the Glory of God”.

It also goes on to say that it was unveiled in 2002 by The Duke of Gloucester, Prince Richard (Born 1944) in memory of Marjorie Going (1906 – 2000) who I assume was a local lady. The statue consists of a small boy on the right who looks like he is selling some sort of fruit, along with Sigeric himself on the horse.

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This is Glastonbury Abbey, the ruins of which are quite substantial. This area around the large wall on the right would have been the Nave, leading up to the Choir beneath the large ruined arch further up the grounds. In the gap between the Nave and the Choir, the Central Tower would have risen high above the rest of the building.

The Nave had at least 8 columns on either side, running parallel to each other, with a gap between them and the main outer walls. A similar set of columns, but numbering only around 6 did the same in the Choir. You can see some very low ruins past the Choir Wall, which was the location of the Abbey Altar, and a small Chapel called the Edgar Chapel once existed beyond that.

This incredible building dates back to the 7th Century after the Saxons took control of the area. Somerset was already in existence as a County, and is one of the oldest administrative areas in the world along with neighbouring counties such as Dorset. The Saxon King, Ine of Wessex established the first Church here at the time, and it was later enlarged in the 10th Century by St Dunstan (909 – 988), the new Abbot of Glastonbury. The Church later formed the basis for the new Abbey, as the original Church was kept, with new buildings being added around it, and by 1086 it had been completed. A fire in 1184 sadly destroyed much of the buildings here, necessitating a rebuild. The first services in the new Abbey were held in 1213 on Christmas Day, but there was still a small amount of work left to finish. Of course the ultimate fate of the building occurred during the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1541), instigated by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) during his split from the Catholic Church in Rome. The buildings here were taken over, and Abbey life was destroyed.

The ruins were then stripped, with lead and stone being removed. The Abbey passed to various different owners, and eventually ended up in the possession of Peter Carew (1514 – 1575) and the Abbey was held by private owners until around 1908 when it was bought by the Bath & Wells Diocesan Trust. During this time more stone was removed when the site became a Quarry, but this was halted around 1882. Behind where I was stood to take this picture the remains of a Lady Chapel also survive, but were covered in scaffolding when we visited as a major conservation effort is in progress. It is in a severely ruined state but a large portion of it is still intact.

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In the centre of the Choir area is perhaps the Abbeys most famous area. A plaque above this rectangular shaped section identifies it as:

“Site of King Arthur’s Tomb. In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were said to have been found on the south side of the Lady Chapel. On 19th April 1278 their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site. This tomb survived until the dissolution of the Abbey in 1539″.

We were astonished that we had found the location of King Arthur’s final resting place, even if the tomb no longer exists. It’s possible the body was moved, but as the plaque says that the tomb lasted until the Dissolution this sounds less likely. King Arthur was of course the legendary King of England who defended Britain from an invasion by the Saxons in the 6th Century. His story has been expanded upon in folklore and other tales, and it is still questioned as to whether he was a real person or perhaps based on one. The Lady Chapel is of course the area I mentioned earlier, behind where I took the previous picture of the Abbey ruins. There is nothing to mark the bodies previous position, as we thoroughly explored the area before we left.

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Just one of the original buildings here survived intact, the Abbot’s Kitchen, shown above. The building has been brilliantly restored, and inside it is laid out as it would have been hundreds of years ago, with furnishings from the time. Its a stunning building, and one of the oldest in Glastonbury.

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Moving away from the Abbey, back onto the main road, there is a plethora of interesting and historical buildings to discover. The most obvious of these is the Market Cross, over to the right of the picture. This is the Crosses 2nd incarnation, as the original, much larger version was erected around 1133. This consisted of a round building with columns around the outside, leading to a central column inside. Each of the outer columns had a spire on the roof above it, and overall it looked very similar to the Poultry Cross in the city of Salisbury, Wiltshire. This Cross was then replaced by a new design by Benjamin Ferry (1810 – 1888, English Gothic Revival Architect) in 1846. The Cross has historically been a meeting point in the town where traders could meet and do business together.

Across from the Cross are a group of buildings, 6 – 9 Market Place, with 6 being at the left of the picture. This row of buildings date back to the late 18th Century/early 19th, and are currently occupied by a variety of shops:

6 – Jons Jewellers

7 – Cat & Cauldron

8 – Elestial/Little Imps Toy Shop

The only exception is the combined 9a/9b, which is a red brick building from the late 19th Century and is directly to the left of the Abbey Gatehouse.

9 – Man, Myth & Magic

A lot of shops in the town are based around either spiritual items, or magical items, linking in with the Arthur legend. This continues on the High Street, which Magdalene Street (which runs past the Abbey and through the Market Place) becomes as it rounds the corner.

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On the High Street there are some stunning medieval buildings, starting with the “George & Pilgrim Hotel” one of my favourite buildings in the town. Originally built around 1430, it was owned by the incumbent Abbot of Glastonbury until the Dissolution occurred. The Duke of Somerset was given possession of the building, before it returned to the crown. By 1562 it was in a bad state but still in use an Inn, as it is today. It is also supposed to be haunted, with various references to a ghost here, most notably in “The Haunted Pub Guide”, published in 1986 by Guy Lyon Playfair, which details two sightings in the building!

Next to the “George & Pilgrim Hotel” is the Lloyds Bank Building, built in 1885 in the Gothic Style. Even though a few hundred years separate the two buildings, they fit in rather well next to each other, with an original Gothic and a modern Gothic Revival building blending together.

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Further up the street is the equally impressive “Tribunal House”, built in the 15th Century, with a 16th Century front. As it’s name suggests, it was previously in use as a Courthouse, or more specifically the Abbey Court House until the Dissolution. It was also used by Judge Jeffreys during the Monmouth Rebellion. The Rebellion was an attempt by Protestants at overthrowing the new Catholic King, James II (1633 – 1701). The leader was James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649 – 1685), and various battles took place around the South West, after his forces landed at Lyme Regis in Dorset in 1685.

The final battle during the rebellion was held near Bridgwater, which is also in Somerset, around 22 miles away. It was called the Battle of Sedgemoor (also the name of a modern day district of the County) and ended with James’s army defeating the Dukes, and he was later captured and taken back to London to be put on trial. He was soon executed, and thanks to Judge Jeffreys (1645 – 1689, Welsh Judge) the same happened to most of his supporters.

A later attempt to overthrow James, this time by William of Orange (1650 – 1702) was successful and he took over as joint Monarch of England, Scotland & Ireland.

Today the building houses the Tourist Information Centre for the town, with a wide range of souvenirs, information and attraction ideas inside.

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The last major building we encountered as we made our way up the High Street (which is also on a moderately steep hill) was the Church of St John the Baptist, with the towns War Memorial, the design of which is based on an old Saxon Cross found at the Abbey, outside on the pavement.

The Church is a beautiful 15th Century construction, and one of the largest Parish Churches in Somerset. There are various treasures associated with the building, from the 15th Century tombs to the Glastonbury Thorn Tree, grown from a cutting from the tree of the same name. Every year a cutting from the tree is delivered to the Queen herself, by the oldest pupil from St John’s School at Christmas.

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We eventually turned back, and started examining the buildings on the other side. One in particular stood out, shown above with the clock protruding from the top. It turns out it is called “Vestry Hall”, although it is currently occupied by a bookshop called Labyrinth Books. It was named “Vestry Hall” after the old building, called the Church Hall (1800) was rebuilt. On the left of the building is a large store window. Originally this area was home to the towns fire engine, installed here after the rebuild, but it was blocked up after the building was sold by the council in 1973.

This was our final stop in the town centre, however there is one other building in the town, quite a few feet above us…

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Glastonbury Tor, a large clay hill that rises high above the town, is home to St Michael’s Tower, which, when it was built in the 14th Century, was the Church Tower to St Michael’s Church. After the Dissolution the main body of the building was destroyed, and it was also the execution place of Richard Whiting (1461 – 1539), the last Abbot of Glastonbury, who has earlier refused to surrender Glastonbury Abbey during the Dissolution, although this was not the reason for his execution, the exact cause of which remains unclear. The Tower was repaired in 1804, and a section was rebuilt to give it more strength. It is open to the public, although most able-bodied visitors are advised to climb up to it as there are only parking spaces for disabled visitors. Even from there there is a long climb up to the very top of the hill, to the tower.

That was the end of our trip to the town of Glastonbury, a beautiful, historic place with many surprising hidden facts. Whilst we travelled by car through Somerset, there are a few other ways to reach the town, including the nearest railway station at Castle Cary, around 10 miles away. The M5 Motorway (South for Exeter, North for Bristol, Gloucester & Birmingham) runs reasonably close to the town and provides links to the rest of the UK Motorway Network, running to all major cities. Bristol and Exeter also have their own airports, although Bristol is the closest. The town is worth visiting, but try to avoid visiting during the annual Glastonbury Festival which runs for five days in June. Despite it’s name it is not officially held in the town, but 6 miles outside of the town near the Village of Pilton.

It was time for us to move on, and we kept going, towards the village of Cheddar, and the world famous Cheddar Gorge…

The South West of England: Pt 4 – Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset

Our next stop was the small town of Burnham-on-Sea, 11 miles away from the larger town of Weston-super-Mare. They have certain similarities, with a long stretching beach, great views of different local islands, and notable piers…

Burnham-on-Sea:

Status: Sedgemoor District, Somerset, Town, England

Date: 07/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Fish & Chips (Pier)

Attractions: Burnham Beach, Burnham Pier, Low Lighthouse, High Lighthouse, St Andrew’s Church, RNLI Station, Stone Pier, BARB Station, Reeds Arms Pub, Stert Island, River Parrett etc

Burnham 1

Our journey began at St Andrew’s Parish Church, as we found a parking space just down and across from this stunning 14th Century Church that overlooks the seafront. One of the most notable features of the Church is the leaning tower at the front, the lean of which stands out rather well on the picture above (originally I thought I had taken the photo on an angle!). Standing around 78 feet tall, it has been leaning for centuries due to the poor foundations it stands on. Supposedly if you drop a plumb line from the top it will land 3 feet away from the base of the tower. Its prominent position near the seafront enabled it to be used as a sort of Lighthouse in the 18th century, when a light was put on the top to guide in local ships. This was eventually superceded, and a round tower stands behind the Church (although it’s a private residence now) and was the town’s original Lighthouse. Since then, two other Lighthouses were built in the town, the High and Low Lighthouses, but more on them in a moment.

An 11th Century Church stood here before the present one, and it was altered and replaced section by section until only a few parts of it survived, mainly the arch over the South Door and a Consecration Cross. The main building was finished around 1316, and inside it contains the remains of a large altar, originally commissioned by King James II (1633 – 1701) for a Chapel in Whitehall. Designed by Inigo Jones and created by Grinling Gibbons, it was moved into Westminster Abbey until 1820 when parts of it were moved here to decorate the building. Parts of it can be found around the Nave and the Altar.

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I mentioned that there are two Lighthouses around the town today, the Low and the High Lighthouses, both built in 1832. The High Lighthouse, like the Round Tower, is also a private residence now, so the only functioning Lighthouse in the town is the Low Lighthouse, which is located away from the Church, further North up the beach away from the town centre. Standing 23 feet tall, it consists of a wooden, square central section, stood on 9 piles, with special metal plates keeping the structure rigid. In 1969 the Lighthouse was taken out of use, and the High Lighthouse took over, but after it ceased all functions in the early 1990’s, the Lights were used once more on the Low one.

The amount of Lighthouses in the town is fully justified, as the Bristol Channel is a very dangerous place for shipping. It has the 2nd highest range of tides in the world, after only the Bay of Fundy near Nova Scotia in Canada, with tides varying by 49 feet. You can also see the extent of the beach, which, although it looks out onto Burnham Bay and past it to the Bristol Channel, is also served by the River Parrett, which empties into the Channel at Burnham.

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Heading Southwards into the main town centre, Burnham’s most famous landmark came into view. Burnham Pier is the shortest pier in Britain, at just 117 feet long. In contrast, the longest pier in Britain is in the town of Southend-on-Sea, Essex, at a staggering 7,080 feet long!

It was the 2nd Pier to be built in the town, as in 1858 a 900 feet stone Pier was constructed, for use by steamer services from Wales to the town, linking up to the Somerset Central Railway (SCR) here in Burham, but a lack of demand caused the service to be terminated in 1888. The opening of the Severn Rail Tunnel between Gloucestershire and South Wales may have also helped to contribute to the downfall of the service. The Pier was however still used by other boats, including the local Life Boat. It still exists, and if you look past the new Pier it runs along the beach towards the sea. It has been covered over in concrete but the rails exists beneath this. Whilst the actual station (opened in 1858 by the SCR) was located in the town centre, the rails did continue out to the pier to meet the Steamer, as a sort of secondary station. As the station closed in 1963, the closest train station to the town is “Highbridge & Burnham” in Highbridge, just over 1 mile away.

The present Pier was subsequently built between 1911 and 1914, out of concrete. It contains an arcade as well as a small cafe which does great chips!

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Walking along the Promenade past the Pier, there are a number of fine looking buildings that face out to sea. The first of these is shown above, and is called “Kinver Terrace” a row of terraced houses built around 1843, under the original name of Pruen’s Terrace. The building fits in perfectly with the seaside theme of the town, and the sun lights it up well during the day thanks to the light paint job.

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Further along is our next building, “The Reeds Arms”, a local pub which is now a part of the Wetherspoon chain of pubs. It first opened in the 1850’s, as a quaint Victorian Pub. The name came from the Arms of George Reed (1805 – 1869), a notable entrepreneur from the town who financed the building, and also built the “National School Establishment” on the Promenade in 1855. He was certainly one of the towns most well known sons, and contributed to various other buildings around the town.

A name change at the pub soon meant that it was renamed “The Queen’s Hotel” however the “Reeds Arms” was eventually reinstated as the pubs official name.

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All along the seafront are a series of plaques, detailing different historical events which have either occurred in the town, or influenced its history. Take the one shown above:

“H.M.S. Burnham. Ex. U.S.S Aulick. BATTLE OF THE ATLANTIC 1940-44. Sixty Years Ago Cheering Local Crowds Enjoyed Giving the Heroic Crew of the Towns’ Adopted Destroyer a Splendid Dinner from Sparse Rations. Trafalgar Day 2004″.

The USS Auclick (DD-258) was a ship originally part of the US Navy, a Clemson Class destroyer built between 1918 and 1919. She was named after John H. Aulick (1787 – 1873, US Naval Officer from Virginia) and she served until 1940. After decommissioning in Halifax, Canada, the ship was transferred to the British Navy, and was renamed HMS Burnham, after two different Burnham’s:

1) Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, England

2) Burnham, Pennsylvania, USA

Whilst the plaque was put up on Trafalgar Day (celebrating Admiral Nelson (1758 – 1805) defeating the French/Spanish at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21/10/1805, which also claimed his life) the HMS Burnham hadn’t actually been built at the time. She is noted however for her service during the Battle of the Atlantic, a naval battle between the Allies and the Axis Powers (Nazi Germany etc) that lasted from 1940 until 1944. The Allies (UK, US, Canada etc) were the ultimate winners, and defeated the Germans fleet of U-Boats, allowing for the successful D-Day Landings. At least 783 German U-Boats were destroyed, and the remaining 174 were captured after the German surrender.

2004 marked 60 years since the triumphant crew of the vessel arrived in Burham in October 1944, with cheering crowds lining the streets to show their gratitude. So because of this, the event was marked on Trafalgar Day, which was celebrating 199 years since the historic battle.

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Looking out to sea, you might spot the area of land on the far side of the water? This is actually an island called Stert Island, and is the flat bit of land in the centre of the picture. Burnham Bay continues behind it, and far behind that are the hills of West Somerset.

At first it looked like a peninsula, and we were already aware of the Bridgwater Bay Peninsula surrounded by the River Parrett and the Bay. We soon noticed a plaque commemorating a swim to the island, and eventually spotted that this extra piece of land ends well before you reach the Peninsula. The Island is well known for a species of Brome Grass called “Bromus Madritensis” which is rare in Britain. Every year a 2.4 km swim from the mainland onto the Island is held in Burnham, after the tradition was revived in 2000, following a 40 year suspension.

Further along the Promenade is a building along the seafront which contains both the Tourist Information Centre and the BARB (Burnham Area Rescue Boat) Hovercraft station. Two hovercraft are stored here, and they run out into the Bristol Channel to rescue people and animals from the notorious mudflats. They moved to their new home on the seafront in 1994, and operate independently of the RNLI Station, located slightly further into the town centre. The RNLI got their first boat here in 1836 as a gift from Sir Peregrine Acland (1789 – 1871) and it was subsequently replaced in 1847 and 1866. By 1930 it was out of use, and it wasn’t until 1994 when the hovercraft arrived that a method of seabased rescue was available, and a new lifeboat station was built in 2003.

Burnham is a great little town, with a large amount of history for such a small town. The views out into the Bristol Channel across Burnham Bay are stunning, and the novelty of walking down Britain’s Shortest Pier is one you will only find here. Other notable local towns and villages include Glastonbury, Cheddar and Weston-super-Mare, each with their own attractions, and local trains can take you into Weston, Cardiff and London.

We enjoyed our trip through history along the seafront, but it was time to move on, to the town of Glastonbury, famous for its music festival, and enormous ruined Abbey…

The South West of England: Pt 3 – Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

For the first stage of our Summer Holiday 2014, we stayed on the outskirts of the town of Weston-super-Mare for 3 days, before heading further south to a static caravan near Dartmouth in Devon. Weston is a well known seaside town in the area, so we set out to explore…

Weston-super-Mare:

Status: North Somerset Unitary District, Somerset, Town, England

Date: 06-09/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Premier Inn Weston, Domino’s Pizza, Greggs, Pizza Hut

Attractions: Weston Pier, Town Hall, Bristol Channel, Beach, Winter Gardens, Marine Lake etc

Weston 1

Our journey started in the centre of town, as there are a few landmarks that aren’t tied to the seaside theme of the town, before you head down to the beach and the piers. The most notable of these has to be Weston Town Hall, a stunning building, the Clock Tower of which is easily visible on the skyline as you drive into the town. The building is currently home to the North Somerset Council, the head of a Unitary Authority District covering Weston and running up to the border with the city of Bristol. In 1974 a county called Avon was created that encompassed Bristol, Weston and a few other towns and cities including Bath, but the county was abolished in 1996 and the districts split up. 2 merged to form South Gloucestershire, 1 became the City & County of Bristol, 2 merged to become Bath & North East Somerset, and the final district was called Woodspring, which was later renamed North Somerset, which is grouped with Somerset geographically as it was historically part of the county.

Construction of the Town Hall was begun in the 1850’s, by J M Ison from the nearby city of Bath. 50 years later the building was enlarged, by Hans Price (1835 – 1912, Architect from Somerset) who also contributed to other buildings around the town from the Library to the various Baptist Churches. The North Front was then added in 1897, completing the building as it stands today.

If you look at the front of the building, the left hand side is noticeably different to the right, and the side of the building. Presumably the area on the left was the original construction, with the area on the right being a later addition. Looking at the Town Halls position geographically on the map, the area on the right would indeed appear to be the Northern section, so this must be the North Front from 1897. It’s a stunning building, and has been kept in a great condition so the original colour of the stonework is visible.

The front of the town Hall is located on Walliscote Road, and our next landmark is situated down Oxford Street, which runs past the North Front.

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The landmark in question is the Church of Emmanuel, created by a duo called “Manners & Gill” in 1847, in the perpendicular style, as it consists of a number of right angles, most obviously around the central tower and its connection to the main body. The Church falls under the COE (Church of England) Diocese of Bath & Wells (the two local cities in Somerset). “Manners & Gill” was made up of two architects:

1) John Elkington Gill (1821 – 1874, Architect from Bath) who was a little known architect in the region until he partnered up with George Manners.

2) George Phillips Manners (1789 – 1866, Architect from Bath) who originally partnered up with Charles Harcourt Masters (born 1759) before working with John from 1845 until 1866 when Charles retired. Together they were responsible for various buildings around Bath including work on Bath Abbey. His practice still survives today, and from 1846 until 1909 it was located at No. 1 Fountain Building. A variety of architects followed in his footsteps in the practice, although many of them were in fact descendants of John Gill as opposed to George himself. A lot of Georges most well known works were on Churches,  a lot of them being made in the Perpendicular style like Emmanuel.

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Moving back into the centre of town, Walliscote Road continues round from the Town Hall towards the sea front and around a park area, which contained this delightful floral train display. It was installed in 2006 by the local council, and celebrates 200 years since the birth of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, famous English Engineer) whose works we would encounter a few times in the coming days, from his SS Great Britain and Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, to the Royal Albert Bridge carrying the railway over the river Tamar between Devon and Cornwall. Another reason for the display is to show where the towns original train station stood after it opened in 1841, on the line between Bristol and Exeter. It later closed sometime after 1851, and a new station presently stands on the outskirts of the town centre. The engine shown in the display is a scale replica of a locomotive called the “North Star” which was the first train to run on the Great Western Railway between London and the South West, also built by Brunel. It was once of 12 engines used on the line, known as the “Star Class” and was designed by Robert Stephenson (1803 – 1850, railway engineer). “North Star” was operational on the line from 1838 (when it pulled the first train) until 1871 when it was withdrawn from service. It’s amazing how much one small floral display can represent, and it opens up centuries of history.

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Continuing on from here towards the sea front, we passed a rather unusual piece of public art, called “Silica” which rises 26 feet above the streets of Weston. This public square area is known as Big Lamp Corner, and the sculpture lights up at night across the various rings. It was built as a joint Kiosk/Bus Shelter/Advertising Space, and although I am unsure whether the Vendor section is still in use, it still operates as a bus stop. I have to say it must be the most expensive bus stop in the country, at £280,000!

The controversial sculpture, which is supposed to represent Man’s harmonious relationship with the Sea, was designed by Wolfgang Buttress (Notable British Artist) of Wolfgang & Heron, a company created out of a partnership between Wolfgang and Fiona Heron.

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Reaching the sea front, one of the best ways to enjoy the views of the seafront and the Bristol Channel that separates Weston from Wales. There are three piers in the town, and this is the central and larger of the two, the Grand Pier. Measuring 400 m long, it was built by an Engineering called P. Munroe between 1903 and 1904. The original pier had a large theatre at the far end, with 2000 seats for spectators. In 1907 a 500 yard docking extension was added to the end of the pier, with the idea being that boats would sail over the channel to and from the Welsh capital, Cardiff, but the strong currents soon put paid to the idea and the extension was taken down. In 1930 a large fire engulfed the pier and the theatre was destroyed, and after rebuilding a funfair enclosed inside a pavilion replaced the theatre and was then converted into an amusement arcade.

A 2nd fire occurred in 2008, destroying the pavilion, but leaving the main structure of the pier intact. By the end of 2010 the pavilion had been rebuilt by John Sisk & Son, to designs by Angus Meek from Bristol. The cause of the 2nd fire was determined to be electrical, and sadly was one in a long line of pier fires around the UK, with the most recent being on Eastbourne Pier in Sussex.

Weston Panoramic

The views from the pier are quite something, and you can see all the main buildings along the seafront. If you click on the above panoramic it will open in a new tab so you can see the view in greater detail. The major landmarks looking from right to left include:

1) The Winter Gardens (far right) which opened in 1927, and includes the Tourist Information Office. Its distinctive curved front looks out onto the promenade, and inside it contains various events centres, cafes and bars, as well as a theatre.

2) Directly to the left of the Winter Gardens is the Berni Royal Hotel, which was Westons first hotel when it opened in 1810. Also in the building is the Feathers Public House, built around 1845, with three storeys. The Feathers makes up the Northern Part of the building.

3) Next along, at 90 degrees to the Berni, is the Royal Terrace Grosvenor Hotel, built around 1860.  The Grosvenor is one of the various grand hotels in the town, along with the Royal.

4) Moving to around halfway along the panoramic, there is a short stone arch located on the promenade. It was completed in mid 2010, and is the centrepiece of a redevelopment of the promenade, which had been modernised and updated, with brand new sea walls. Made up of 15, 7.5 tonne granite blocks, the arch is self supporting, and was designed by an artist from Bristol named John Maine.

5) Behind the cluster of buildings, around 3/4 of the way from the right, is the spire of Holy Trinity Church, built by H Lloyd back in 1861. It has a commanding position above the town, with the spire rising above the surrounding buildings.

6) Past the edge of the land shown to the right is the Bristol Channel, with Wales behind it, and the two cities of Cardiff and Newport are visible from various points along the shoreline. The rest of the landmarks shown on the panoramic clustered around the left of the picture include Birnbeck Pier right at the very end, and the edge of the marine lake, but I shall get to both of these later on in this post.

In the middle of the Bristol Channel are two islands, one called Steep Holm (left) and one called Flat Holm (right). Despite their proximity, they are actually both in different countries:

1) Steep Holm – Somerset, England

Steep Holm is a limestone island covered by the administrative unit of North Somerset, and is privately owned by a group of trustees. Both of the islands have fortifications on them, added by the Victorians in fear of an attack by the French Navy. These remain today, and the old Barracks have been turned into an Exhibition Centre. As well as these, a second set of fortifications added during World War II also exists, and consist of guns, rocket launcher sites and searchlights. Steep Holm is the furthest out to sea, and lies around 5 miles away from Weston. The rest of the Island is a nature reserve, and regular trips to the island from Weston allow visitors to experience the local flora and fauna. The whole island is about 0.6 of a mile long, and 1,300 feet wide. It’s name comes from its distinctive appearance, and at it’s highest point it rises to 265 feet tall (78 metres).

2) Flat Holm – City of Cardiff District, Wales

Flat Holm, again named for its layout obviously distinct from Steep Holm, is a limestone island closer to Wales, and comes under the City of Cardiff District. Trips are available to the island, and it is also 5 miles away from its respective coastline. The local wildlife includes rabbits and one of the largest gull colonies in the whole of Wales. There are a few buildings left on the island, from the ruins of the old Cholera Hospital (1896) and the 98 feet tall Lighthouse (1737). Due to its position in a busy shipping channel the Lighthouse stops ships running aground on the island, and flashes once around every 3 seconds. A Foghorn was added in 1906. Like Steep Holm, it was fortified by the Victorians and again during World War II, and they survive today. The island is smaller than its counterpoint, at only around 0.4 miles long and 0.4 miles wide. Its highest point is only 105 feet tall, less than half that of Steep Holm. Due to it’s position, the island is officially the most Southerly point of Wales.

Weston

This is a view looking South along the beach towards the 2nd of Weston’s 3 piers, also taken from the end of the main pier. This particular pier is notable, as at the time it was the first new pier built in Britain since around 1910. It opened in 1995, and the building that sits on top of it houses the town Aquarium. It is known as the SeaQuarium, and it is 1 part of two such Aquariums, with the other being in the town of Rhyl, in North Wales. You can see from the picture that it is much shorter, and looks to be one of the shortest in the country, although we would encounter the actual shortest pier in Britain later in the day, round at the town of Burnham-on-Sea, also in Somerset. If you want to find out more about the different species present in the Aquarium (including 10 different zones showcasing fish from all over the world), as well as its opening times, visit their official website here.

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We eventually left the Grand Pier and had a wander down the promenade. Further along, well past the Arch, is the Marine Lake, which even has it’s own beach! It was artificially created in 1927, and at the front of the Lake is a concrete sea wall separating the Lake from the tide, and a walkway crosses the sea wall, giving great views across the Lake and out into the Bristol Channel. Prior to this a causeway ran across to the island, created around 1833 out of granite.

Next to it, to the left (out of shot) a rocky outcrop known as Knightstone Island, which was visible on the panoramic photograph from earlier, on the far left (with Birnbeck Pier protruding behind it). Boats leave from the “Island” to Flat Holm, and when the tide recedes this entire area round to the Grand Pier is exposed. A cluster of buildings on the Island includes three Grade II listed buildings:

1) The Pavilion, a large public hall & theatre built in 1902. There are storeys to the building, and it looks similar to the one on the end of the Grand Pier, and looks out across the bay and the Lake.

2) The Edwardian Swimming Baths from 1904, with a Romanesque tiled roof. It has been finely crafted with columns and tall windows around the outside.

3) Another Bath House, called the Sauna & Solarium, which was built by Dr Fox of Brislington in the 19th Century, and part of it today includes the Dr Foxs Tea Rooms.

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Our last stop was further along the Promenade, looking out towards the sadly derelict form of Birnbeck Pier. Like the SeaQuarium Pier, it is also notable, for being the only pier in the country which actually links an island back to the mainland, rather than just terminating out to sea. It runs 1,150 feet out to Birnbeck Island, and also includes an RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) station which can be seen on the left just past where the main section of the pier reaches the island. It previously used the sloping jetty on the left with a Boathouse (1902) for it at the top. Behind that is a large white building, which is the new boathouse added in 2011, as the station is still used by the RNLI. A 3rd Boathouse is sat to the right of the White one, and was the original from 1889. This slipway is the one currently used.

On the far side of the Pier is another jetty, for steamboats running out towards the Bristol Channel. This is called the North Jetty, and was built in 1905. The Pier itself was built in 1867, to designs by Eugenius Birch (1818 – 1884, architect from Shoreditch, London) and was a tourist attraction until World War II, when it was taken over by the Navy for weapons research. After the war ended the pier reopened but trade had slowed, with boats hardly visiting, so it closed again in 1979, and has slowly become dilapidated ever since. I hope that soon it will be restored, and maybe one day when we revisit the area we can enjoy a sunny walk down to the island.

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One of my favourite views from Weston is far away, over the Bristol Channel, in Wales. The Welsh capital city, Cardiff, is easily visible to the naked eye, with a few major landmarks standing out in the distance. If you look directly above the small building at the end of the North Jetty, you will see  3 of the 4 spired corners of the Millennium Stadium (1999), which is the national stadium for Wales and the home of the Welsh Rugby Union Team. To the right of that is the tall, rectangular figure of Stadium House (1976) which is the tallest building in the city, at 255 feet tall. A 131 feet tall spire sits on top of the building, and lights up at night.

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Turning back, we retraced our steps back along the Promenade to our starting point, and got a great view across the beach. The tide was still out, and the poor little boats were stranded until it returned. You also get the best view of the Grand Pier from here, with the Pavilion at the end. You can get behind the Pavilion, but only on the far side from here, as the other side is staff only.

Weston-super-Mare is a pleasant town, and a great location for the stunning views across the Channel, to the two islands, and over to Wales. The Beach and the Lake are great places to relax, and the interesting history of the Piers is a huge draw. We enjoyed visiting the town, which also has good transport links. The M5 Motorway (South for Exeter, North for Bristol, Gloucester & Birmingham) runs close to the town, and Bristol International Airport is only 15 miles outside of the town, halfway between Weston and Bristol itself. The new train station, opened in 1884 (replacing two previous incarnations from 1841 and 1866) has direct services to the cities of Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff, as well as Taunton, Paignton, and of course the Capital, London. Various other local towns are also served, along with a bus service calling at Cheddar, Burnham-on-Sea, Bristol Airport and the city of Wells.

After enjoying the view for a bit longer, we moved on, and our next stop was 11 miles South along the coast, to the town of Burnham-on-Sea, home to the shortest pier in Britain…

The South West of England: Pt 2 – The Severn Bridges

Heading towards Weston-super-Mare, we passed the most famous route over the Bristol Channel from the city of Bristol and Gloucestershire into Wales. The Severn Bridges, two mighty structures that link both sides of the Channel loomed in the distance…

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The Severn Bridge

This is the original bridge to cross the Channel at this point, and was the first major road bridge over the Severn here as previously both a Rail Bridge and a Rail Tunnel had opened in 1879 and 1886 respectively. The Severn Tunnel runs for four miles and carries the mainline Great Western Railway from London into South Wales. The tunnel is located slightly North of the position of the new Severn Bridge. Road users had two options, either making a nearly 60 mile detour around Gloucester into Wales, or using the Aust Ferry, which ran between 1829 and 1966, and was a small car ferry that ran close to the position of the first Severn Bridge.

With traffic growing, a new crossing for the river was needed and ideas were being looked at. It had first been suggested by Thomas Telford in 1824 when he was asked to speed up the mail services from London to Wales, but these plans didn’t progress. It wasn’t until after World War II that a new system of main roads was thought up to be built around the country, and the plans included bridges at certain locations, with the two largest being the Forth Road Bridge across the Forth from Edinburgh to Fife, and the Severn Bridge. The Forth was built first, with the Severn Bridge following in 1961. The whole bridge was finished by 1966, and was built in stages:

1) Substructure – John Howard & Co, completed in 1963.

2) Superstructure – Associated Bridge Builders Ltd, made up of Sir William Arrol & Co, Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company and Dorman Long) which was finished in 1966. The towers stand at 445 feet tall, and the whole bridge is just short of a mile long.

The whole bridge was split into 4 phases, staring with the Aust Viaduct which carries the road towards the first section of the Severn Bridge, which is the main section with the suspension cables. After that the Beachley Viaduct carries the roadway over the similarly named peninsula in Gloucestershire that juts out into the river, underneath the bridge. The final section is the Wye Bridge, which looks like a smaller version of the main bridge, which runs over the river Wye just past the peninsula which marks the border between England and Wales. Most people think that the River Severn is the border between England and Wales, but up until the position of the Severn Bridge, where the Wye joins it and the two become the Severn Estuary, it is merely a river within England.

Both of the bridges are toll bridges, and lead to the bizarre situation of having to pay to drive into Wales, but not back into England. Disabled badge holders do however get free travel over the bridges.

Severn 2

The Second Severn Crossing

This is the newer bridge, intended to take the majority of the traffic away from the older bridge. When it opened, the original bridge carried the M4 Motorway (West for Newport, Cardiff & Swansea, West for Bristol & London). There was so much extra traffic on the roads that by the 1980’s ideas for a new bridge were well underway, and an architect named Ronald Weeks created the new design. Construction started on the Second Severn Crossing in 1992 and took 4 years, finally opening in 1996 with the Prince of Wales, Charles (Born 1948), in attendance. When it opened the M4 was rerouted over the new bridge, and the M4 section of the old bridge was renamed the M48, which connects with the M4 at either end of the bridge. The M4 has a junction with the M5 on the English side of the Bridge, and then continues on towards the M32 (Bristol City Centre) and then out towards London. It also connects with the M49 which leads directly from the Second Severn Crossing towards a more southerly section of the M5, and Avonmouth Docks, part of Bristol, for travellers specifically heading South on the M5 from the bridge.

Again the bridge is split into sections, although this time there are only 3 instead of 4. At either end is a viaduct section, one each for England and Wales, and the main bridge section in the centre. The two towers stand 137 metres tall each, and the overall span of the whole structure amounts to 16,824 feet, of which around 2000 metres accounts for each of the viaduct sections.

These two mighty Bridges are landmarks in the area and its always a joy to fly past them on the motorway, and in my various trips with my Dad towards Cardiff, I have been over both. A good place to stop get much closer views of the Bridges (I got these shots from the car as we passed on the M5) is a place called Severn Beach, located next to the Second Severn Crossing, or Aust near the Severn Bridge, both on the English side. On the Welsh side you could stop at the aforementioned Beachley to take in the views.

The South West of England: Pt 1 – Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

This was the start of another epic trip as we embarked on our Summer Holidays for 2014 with Gemma’s parents, which would take us through 5 Counties, 5 Cities, and Land’s End itself. We charged down the M6/M5 towards our first port of call, the town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, via the quaint town of Tewkesbury…

Tewkesbury:

Status: Tewkesbury District, Gloucestershire, Town, England

Date: 06/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: River Avon, Tewkesbury Abbey, War Memorial, Historic Tudor Buildings, Countryside Museum, Methodist Church, Touching Souls Sculpture, Royal British Legion Club, River Severn, Out of the Hat Visitor Centre etc

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We pulled up in a small car park to the rear of Tewkesbury’s most famous landmark, the stunning Abbey. There are two entrances into the well kept grounds of the building, one from the car park and one round at the front, so we took the back entrance and walked through the trees, marvelling at the stonework, before exploring the inner depths of the Abbey. (I shall cover the interior in a new edition of Faith & The British, coming soon!)

The buildings construction started in 1102, 15 years after the Abbey was founded by Robert FitzHamon (1045 – 1107, a Norman who took control of Glamorgan in Wales and became its Lord). The main part of the building was consecrated in 1121 and various Chapels were then added throughout the 14th Century. The building was a grand affair which included outer buildings for the Benedictine monks who inhabited it. The Tower was the largest Norman Tower in the World, standing an impressive 148 feet tall and originally was created as a Lantern Tower to let light into the building below, but was later clad in stone in the 14th century. It had a wooden spire atop it when it was built, but it fell down in 1559 and the tower was left as it is now.  A special chapel for the body of Robert was created in 1395, a worthy honour for the Abbeys founder.

As was the fate of most Abbey’s of the time, its story almost came to an end after King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) disbanded the Monasteries between 1536 and 1541. This was essentially aimed at the old Catholic Institutions, as Henry had recently separated from the Pope in Rome and created the Church of England in 1531. He feared that the old monastic religions would stay loyal to the Pope and ignore his new Church.

Tewkesbury Abbey was taken in 1540, but happily the building survived as the local townspeople bought the building for the grand sum of £453 so that they could use it as a Parish Church, and many of the furnishings inside were changed to reflect this. Some of the outer buildings used by the Monks were demolished, including the Lady Chapel, but the main Church building survives. Interestingly the building is larger than 14 Cathedrals across England, which shows the scale such buildings were built on, and many of them predate the ancient Cathedrals of England too.

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The main entrance to the Abbey Gardens comes out onto the main road, Church Street, through a set of ornate, wrought iron gates. They are thought to date back to circa 1750, as there are records to indicate they were given by Lord Gage (1702 – 1754, MP for Tewkesbury) around this time. The gates lead towards the North Porch of the Abbey, where a cross commemorating the consecration of the building back in 1121 is featured.

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To the right of the gates (looking out of the Abbey grounds) is a volunteer run tea room called the Touching Souls tea room. In a small courtyard outside that is the above statue, also called “Touching Souls” and created by an artist called Mico Kaufman in 1999. The statue represents relationship, and respecting others around you. It’s an interesting piece, and fits in rather well with its surroundings.

The rest of the grounds are full of well cut lawns and stunning trees, but this is but a small part of Tewkesbury, and as we exited the Abbey grounds onto the high street, the calibre of the buildings here hit us…

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Our first stop was the National School building, just to the left of the Touching Souls tea room looking from across the road. This is one of the newer buildings in the area, and was built in 1817, after the institution itself was founded 4 years earlier. The whole building was enlarged in 1842, and it remains in good condition. Medieval flags fly from most of the buildings in the town, so see how many you can spot as we go through Tewkesbury.

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Directly to the left of the National School is the Royal British Legion Club, built in the 15th Century as an Inn called the Mason’s Arms. It was later converted into the Club building in the 19th Century, with various modifications taking place inside, presumably to reduce the number of rooms into a series of larger internal spaces. Its a stunning example of the architecture in the town, and one of many.

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We kept moving, and reached the intersection of Church Street and Gander Lane, and stopped to look back at the imposing tower of the Abbey, sat behind the beautiful Abbey Lawn Cottages. Again 15th Century, the Cottages make up a quaint row of terraced houses, which were restored in 1967, although happily they still look in the condition they would have been 500 years ago.

To the right of the Cottages, past the small brick building, is number 40 Church Street, another 15th Century building which has a new Victorian front from the 19th. It also contains the John Moore Countryside Museum, with a row of Cottages on the far side of it similar to those in the foreground which make up the rest of the premises. The museum is named after John Moore (1907 – 1967) who was a well known writer and conservationist born in the town. He spoke out for conservation and also played an important part of preserving the heritage of the town and its buildings.

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Whilst Tewkesbury is quite far inland, there are a number of waterways around the town so we came off the main street to search for one of them, and walked up St Mary’s Lane. This street has an incredible collection of buildings on it, and four of them are listed:

1) At the far end of the street where it joins Church Street, are numbers 91/92 from the early 17th Century, with the oldest section of the buildings, the rear wing, dating back to 1564.

2) Just to the left of that is the shorter number 2, St Marys Lane, a house from the 16th Century, with large timber frames and 2 storeys.

3) The 2nd to last building on the picture, coming towards the left, is number 6 St Marys Lane which is also from the 16th Century, with a tiled roof, similar to a lot of buildings in the town.

4) The final listed building on the street is number 7 St Marys Lane, at the far left of the picture. There are two dates given for the building, the 16th Century and 18th Century so it may have been built in two sections which were later put together to create one larger building.

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At the end of the street, we reached one of the many rivers that runs either through or around the town. This particular one is called the Avon, which begins its journey in the county of Northamptonshire, and then runs through Leicestershire, Warwickshire and into Gloucestershire, where it joins with the River Severn to the South of the town centre, back past the Abbey. The Severn then flows on through the city of Gloucester and out into the Bristol Channel, between England and Wales near Bristol.

Other waterways around the town include the Tirle Brook, and various other smaller brooks.

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This is a view up the main high street approaching the intersection of Tewkesbury’s main streets. You can see how interesting and varied the buildings here are, with many of them fine Tudor examples. Let’s start with the “Royal Hop Pole” which is the first building at the front of the picture on the left. This fine Tudor building was built near the end of the 15th Century, and stood alone until a Coaching Inn was built in the 18th Century to the left of it. Today they have been made into one large building, and a new front was added to unify the two. The building consists of a large hotel and a Wetherspoons Pub on the ground floor.

Directly opposite the “Royal Hop Pole” are numbers 15/16 Church Street, at the front right of the picture. This set of two houses were built around the same time as the “Royal Hop Pole” and had another floor added in the 17th Century. To the left is the brick front of number 14 Church Street, which was built out of timber sometime prior to the 18th Century, when it had the brick front installed. A fire in 1987 destroyed much of the historic interior, but a few sections survived, such as the joists on the first floor. To the left of number 14 is number 13 Church Street, the front of which was built in the 17th Century, although the fabric of the building itself may be even older. Another fire in 1985 resulted in the front being rebuilt, but it has kept its Tudor charm.

This to me embodies THE typical English town, as when a lot of people think of “Ye Olde England” Tudor architecture comes to mind, and Tewkesbury ranks alongside other well known places like Chester for it’s beauty. Of course Tudor architecture is just one part of the town and there are many older buildings which include the Abbey, but I always think the Tudors had a great flare for design and they just look incredible. All around the town there is an incredible collection of literally hundreds of Listed Buildings, and if you look on the page for Tewkesbury on the British Listed Buildings site here you will see what I mean, as the main streets are covered in dots as almost every building in the town centre is Listed.

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In the very centre of town, where the main streets of Church Street, High Street and Barton Road meet, is a small roundabout made up of the Tewkesbury War Memorial. It was created out of limestone around 1920 after the end of World War I and stands as a memorial to all the soldiers from the town who died in the conflict, whose names are listed on 6 large bronze plaques around the memorial. A medieval cross previously stood on the spot until 1650, and after that a Market Hall was built and noted as the way of traffic in the town on this spot. This was later demolished, and a new Town Hall was built on the High Street in 1788, the road leading off to the left just out of shot. Sadly we didn’t have time to wander down to it as we had a long journey yet to Somerset, but I have seen picture of the building, which has a lovely stone front with statues and a clock at the top.You can see a picture courtesy of the BBC here.

Behind the War Memorial, to the right, is the Tewkesbury Methodist Church, a Victorian Chapel from 1878.

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We kept exploring the immediate area and eventually ended up back on Church Street as we made our way back to the car. We soon spotted the Tourist Information Office, which is part of the “Out of the Hat” Heritage & Visitor Centre. Together they are all housed in a 17th Century building, which has been lovingly restored inside so you can experience what life was like in the town a few hundred years ago. You can find out more about the Heritage Centre by visiting its official website here.

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Between the various streets full of the old timber framed buildings, are an assortment of narrow alleyways criss crossing between them, and its incredible how close the buildings were built all those years ago. This alley comes off Church Street, and contains some pleasant old houses, tucked away out of sight.

Tewkesbury is a beautiful place and one of the best preserved medieval towns we have visited. The town was supposedly founded in the 7th Century, by a Saxon man named Theoc. Theoc eventually evolved into the modern name of Tewkesbury today.

The town has good onward travel connections, with the M5 Motorway (for Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter and South) running around the town. The nearest train connection is at Ashchurch, 2 miles outside of the town, with the station being called “Ashchurch for Tewkesbury”. Regular trains between Bristol and Worcester call here, calling at Gloucester. Other services run on to Weymouth in Dorset, and Brighton in Sussex, as well as direct services between Cardiff and Nottingham via Tewkesbury and Birmingham. One train a day also runs on to London Paddington. Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham Airports are also reasonably close to the town and offer local flights as well as international ones.

Tewkesbury is one of our favourite towns, in the heart of Gloucestershire, with amazing views on either side, and a plethora of history to discover, so it was the perfect place to start our adventure. We carried on, to the town of Weston-super-Mare in Somerset…

Lowther Castle, Cumbria, England

In the picturesque countryside of the county of Cumbria, not far outside the town of Penrith, is Lowther Castle, a stunning landmark from the 19th century…

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Lowther Castle

This beautiful country home has been the home of the Earl of Lonsdale since its construction, between 1806 and 1814. The incumbent Earl has always been a member of the Lowther Family, starting with William Lowther (1757 – 1844, Tory Politician), who, along with his wife, Augusta Lowther (died 1838) became the 1st Earl and Countess of Lonsdale. Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867, English architect) built the building for William, replacing Lowther Hall, which had been rebuilt in the 17th century by John Lowther (1655 – 1700).

(The title of Earl of Lonsdale had previously existed as William was the 3rd cousin once removed of James Lowther, the original 1st Earl of Lonsdale (1736 – 1802) and the title died out as he had no proper ancestors. William recreated the title and became the new 1st Earl)

It was first called a Castle when the present incarnation was finished in 1814, thanks to its stunning appearance. It remained the home of the Lowther family through the following centuries, including:

William Lowther2nd Earl (1787 – 1872)

Henry Lowther3rd Earl (1818 – 1878) and sadly he only owned the property for 4 years as he died of pneumonia at the age of 58.

St George Lowther4th Earl (1855 – 1882) and also died of pneumonia, but after just 3 years in charge of the estate, at the tender age of 26.

Hugh Cecil Lowther5th Earl (1857 – 1944) who was forced to move out of the Castle in 1937 due to his extravagant spending habits, and he could no longer afford to upkeep the property.

Lancelot Lowther6th Earl (1867 – 1953) although he didn’t actually live here. The debts were left behind from his brother Hugh, and a lot of the treasures in the property were sold off at auction in 1947. Lancelot died 6 years later and the Castle passed to James, his grandson. During this time World War II broke out (1939 – 1945) and a tank regiment occupied the Castle for training purposes.

James Hugh William Lowther7th Earl (1922 – 2006) who again didn’t reside in the Castle. The roof was removed from the building in 1957, and still hasn’t been replaced as you can see from the above picture.

Hugh Clayton Lowther8th Earl (Born 1949) Hugh is the current Earl, and was the man who sold the mountain Blencathra in the Lake District in 2014.

William James Lowther9th Earl (Heir Presumptive) (Born 1957). William, Hugh’s son is the presumed heir of the title Earl of Lonsdale, and will become the 9th Earl.

The property remains a shell, after James was forced to demolish most of it, after an offer to give it to the local authorities was rejected. There were once stunning gardens around the Castle but their upkeep ceased in 1935, and they have long since gone for other developments. Today the area is owned by the Lowther Estate, who along with English Heritage are undertaking a restoration of the Gardens, which is slowly taking shape and is open to the public. Another restoration on the building itself is also underway, as the walls and towers are being rebuilt, and the old stables area is now a cafe, shop and museum, which we had a look at during our visit.

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This is the old stables yard, which is located to the left of the main Castle building, with the entrance to the garden through the arch at the right of the picture. Its a large area, with the cafe directly opposite as you enter. The rest of the courtyard buildings house the shop and the museum, and has all been beautifully restored. It gives you a good idea of what the Castle itself must have looked like when it was whole.

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One last part of the original structure survives, in the form of the outer walls of the estate round at the front of the Castle. What looks like the original entrance gate is opposite the main part of the Castle, and attached to it on either side are the Castle outer walls. The Gate and the Walls date from the Castles completion in 1814, as they are described in a book about England written at the time.

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The walls are in turn connected to small fortifications, and I think that the walls were more for show than any practical usage, going off their size, and the fact that I have found some older pictures showing them at their present height. They are a great feature however and add to the medieval aesthetics of the site.

Its quite eery seeing the hollow shell of the main Castle building, and the empty ground walls. It’s easy to imagine what it must have been like at it’s prime, and it’s a real shame that it’s ended up in this state. Even so, its an incredible place to visit, and its certainly worth the trip. The Castle is located close to Junction 40 (Penrith) of the M6 Motorway from Birmingham to Gretna. You can find out more about upcoming events at the Castle by visiting their official website here.