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    The Giant’s Causeway is one of earth’s natural wonders, iconic and instantly recognisable. Although it can have up to a million visitors a year, it is possible for the Slow Traveller to enjoy it in relative peace if the timing and choice of viewing position are right. Given World Heritage Status in 1986 by UNESCO, this site is unique because of its size, its stunning beauty and the legends associated with it. The site is an entirely natural phenomenon, approximately 40,000 interlocking basalt columns formed 50 - 60 million years ago by a volcanic fissure eruption.  Basalt lava erupted on to chalk and, as it cooled, it began to contract and fracture, splitting the basalt into the imposing pillars that can be seen today. The pillars are predominantly hexagonal but some have 4, 5, 7 and even 8 sides. Of course, the “truth” of their origin lies in mystery and legend; you will read and hear tales of the two rival giants - Benandonner from Scotland and Finn MacCool from Ireland.  The stories differ in the telling but the most common one seems to be that Finn hurled rocks into the sea to build himself a pathway to meet and subdue his enemy.  However, he soon realised that Benandonner was by far the stronger and more powerful of the two of them, so retreated back to Ireland. Benandonner followed, Fion’s wife disguised her husband as a baby whereupon Benandonner took fright, assuming the father of this huge child must be gigantic, and fled back across the sea tearing up the rocks behind him.  This version fits delightfully with the apparent origins of the basalt columns that remain in Scotland on the island of Staffa. The rock formations of Staffa as seen from the sea The walk down to the cliffs is itself a delight – past jagged cliffs tumbling down into the Atlantic Ocean, attractive small bays and wild flowers peeping out of the crevices in the rocks. On a clear day Scotland is visible from the path. The basalt columns ahead form dramatic pillars - stepping stones from the foot of the cliffs above right down into the sea - and the visitor is able to wander freely among and on them.   The tallest is 12 metres but most are easily accessible. There is a palpable sense of the natural world even in the most visited area - there are no buildings nearby, no cars nor coaches, just the occasional sight of a shuttle bus depositing and collecting visitors who choose not to walk the kilometre down to the shore.  Rangers with different specialisms e.g. a geologist, a naturalist, are on hand to answer any visitor questions or point out features like the giant’s boot or wishing chair. One showed us where past generations had forced coins into the fissures, presumably for luck, but explained how any attempt to leave evidence of human presence can cause huge damage to these impressive stones and is today considered vandalism. The site is extensive enough to accommodate large numbers with ease but, if you wish to avoid potential crowds, it is possible to scramble beyond the obvious places close to where the shuttle stops and strike out onto other areas of the stones which are just as fascinating and can be enjoyed peacefully.  The Causeway extends well beyond the main focus of attraction for 4 miles in total so there is plenty of space to immerse yourself in this geological feature and wonder at the power of nature that created this drama in the Antrim landscape. If you can time your visit for sunrise or sunset your views will indeed be spectacular - in any case early morning or late evening are the best times to arrive.  There will be no coachloads of tourists, just walkers, strollers and the occasional cyclist looking to absorb the sights, colours and atmosphere of mystery surrounding these remarkable stones. The site is under the guardianship of the National Trust and there is no charge for seeing the stones - a fee is made for parking and for entry into the Visitors Centre which explains the science that created these dramatic columns. You can pick up a leaflet which suggests 4 different walking routes, take an audio guide to listen to a commentary at marked stops, join a guided walk led by a Ranger or simply wander off on your own. Whatever your choice, you can be certain of an uplifting experience within this natural wonder. Visiting the Giant’s Causeway By car Parking near the Visitors Centre, Bushmills, County Antrim, BT57 8SU By bus Regular services available, some are seasonal. Ulsterbus Service 172, Goldline Service 221, Causeway Rambler Service. By train Regular train services from Belfast or Londonderry to Coleraine then Ulsterbus 172.The Causeway Coastal Path, a relatively easy section of the Ulster Way passes through the Giants Causeway. Walking The Causeway Coastal Path, a relatively easy section of the Ulster Way, includes a route covering the 4 miles of the Causeway. Cycling The Giants Causeway ride is 65 miles in total. Opening Times The coastline is open from dawn to dusk, the car park and Visitors Centre from 1000 - 1700. Facilities There are loos, a café and a shop at the Visitor Centre.


    The popular Dorset town of Lyme Regis sits right on the south coast, a pretty seaside resort with golden beaches, a famous harbour and plenty of things to do. Here, Anna takes us on a walk through the hidden back streets and out into the woods, to discover the beauty and history that so many visitors to the area miss. Everyone loves this iconic Jurassic Coast seaside resort, the famous Cobb like a protective arm around the harbour, the view of Dorset’s landmark Golden Cap, fish & chips and seagulls, sand and pebbles. This is a place that’s on the border of Devon and Dorset, and on the border of coast and countryside. As with every historic town it has its own back story and there’s a back route here that’s a great way to discover a bit of Lyme behind the scenes and avoid the summer crowds. The clue is in the little River Lim that flows through the town into Lyme Bay, sometimes vanishing from sight underneath the road, then bubbling up unexpectedly in one of the deep channels that still keep the millstones turning at the historic Town Mill. This walk is accompanied all the way by the sound of the river and takes in another listed mill, a unique artisan studio and the treat of a tapas bar before strolling back again. Choose a parking spot between Uplyme and Lyme itself, find Church Lane and pick up the East Devon Way - a wide and shady footpath that invites you to follow the river towards the sea. It's extraordinary how quickly you can be in another world, just a few steps from the busy main road, out of sight, out of hearing and out of mind. The lane becomes a path, becomes a track, becomes a place that makes you wonder why you never found it before. You’ll find a tunnel of beech and sycamore, the river shallow and musical, the steep sides thick with ferns and wild garlic, hidden houses with long gardens, all a stone’s throw from the town centre and its cram of holiday cottages. Part of the East Devon Way is shared with Mill Lane which rather gives the game away. Just as the woodland gives way to a surprise of fields, just as the river starts to pick up speed and purpose, there’s an ancient watermill – now being restored under the watchful eye of English Heritage. It’s a rare treat to get a glimpse of a building that’s been embedded in the landscape for centuries and it’s impossible not to try to imagine who is going to live there and whether, one way or another, it’s still in the same family. The next stretch of the path takes you into the outskirts of Lyme, alongside a stony ford. As the houses start to touch each other, the courtyard of Town Mill offers a little haven, the turning back point on this occasion, though the seafront is just moments away. However, not before two more special treats. The warmly welcoming artisan studio of Melanie Molesworth and Julia Bird is a tranquil space in the old Miller’s Garage, with delicate artwork created from pressed seaweed. The beautiful patterns and colours take your breath away. They celebrate an underwater version of a botanical garden, and a creative partnership that has inspired foraging in style - Melanie along the coastlines of Devon and Dorset with her studio in Lyme, and Julia in Cornwall with her studio at Trebyan Forge, Lanhydrock, Bodmin. Any self-respecting walk needs refreshment along the way. The courtyard is also home to The Strawberry Tree and the unexpected delight of Spanish and North African cooking. Just when you think you might have a quick cup of coffee before retracing your steps back to the car, you realise that slow-cooked chorizo in sweet sherry, spicy chickpeas on creamy yoghurt, a glass of white wine and a bottle of Cerveza & Limon are on the menu. What better companion on a slow walk than delicious slow-cooked food? The choice is clearly made for you. This three-mile round trip has managed to include geography, history, art and culinary culture. It’s hidden behind the scenes in plain sight and is definitely one to remember and repeat – after all, there’s a tapas menu to work through. You can read more from Anna, and see some of her fantastic photos, on her website: Committed To Words


    After a two year hiatus, the annual festival of flowers has returned to Salisbury Cathedral in a glorious celebration of both 800 years since the foundation of the cathedral and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, with floral arrangements filling the aisles in a profusion of colour, sound and scent. On for only one week, it really is a spectacular way to see this already incredible building. The Flower Festival has always been a much anticipated event in the cathedral calendar, and after a long wait it has finally returned. 2020 was the 800 year anniversary of the cathedral's foundation and although the events of that year were unable to go ahead, they have been incorporated into this year's festival, which also commemorates the Queen's Jubilee. The overall theme is one of celebration, as well as recognition of what people have been through over the past two years. Over 450 flower arrangers have been hard at work setting up their displays in the cathedral, under the supervision of professional florists. Arrangers have come from across the region - churches within the diocese, flower clubs across the south west, colleges and individuals, who have used over 30,000 blooms between them. The local community has also been involved, with 400 hearts hanging from the ceiling, made under the direction of the cathedral's Education Department. Visitors to the cathedral over the Easter holidays were able to decorate the hearts, with others created by community groups in care homes, day care centres and art groups. The result is an impressive feast for the eyes. Entry to the cathedral is on the western end of the nave, and the first thing you see as you enter is the hundreds of pastel hearts hanging down from the vaulted ceiling, complemented by three broken arches of pale pink roses, eucalyptus leaves and luscious, fresh greenery. Interspersed with the arches are more traditional arrangements on single pedestals; pink, purple and orange peonies, roses and ferns. The hearts and colours reflect in the still water of the central font, creating a multi layered depth to the whole scene. The effect is of a subtle, soft-hued opulence of springtime. In front of the huge doors at the West end is a section called 'The Royal Nursery'. Here we see a pale yellow muslin hanging down from the ceiling over a child sized bed, with a pillow and blanket of yellow and white flowers: tight little yellow rose buds and furry white grasses which look soft enough to sleep under, ornamented with an old teddy bear, dolls and a rocking horse. This is in homage to the Queen, whose London nursery in 1926 was decorated in yellows instead of the traditional pinks and blues. The royal theme is continued up the quire, with the pièce de résistance at the high altar - a magnificent display of the Queen's Coronation robe flowing down the steps. This richly coloured purple robe is made entirely of plants; Pampas and Laguras grass, gilded ruscus for the gold trimmings and ferns. It is a stunning display and hard to believe that it is made from flowers. It is surrounded by white flower arrangements of lilies and large cardoon leaves to represent the work of Constance Spry, who arranged the flowers in Westminster Abbey and along the processional route for the Coronation in 1953. The entrances to either side of the quire is through a rainbow arch of flowers - one in recognition of the work of the NHS over the past two years, the other as a symbol of inclusivity. Once through the arches there are further arrangements down the sides. Some displays reflect the Commonwealth, with a huge, vibrant display of flowers from across the globe, with striking orange Bird of Paradise flowers intermingled amongst vivid purples, reds and yellows. Not all displays are large, as on the other quire aisle are some petite arrangements, representing the construction of the cathedral. Old window frames found in the Works Yard have been repurposed with panels of flowers, and a piece of medieval stone from the Hungerford Chantry which was demolished in the 18th century has been decorated with small, tightly packed flowers to represent floral embroidery. Carnations fill lead shapes which were specially made for the festival and which represent the lead roof of the cathedral, and there are panels of bright glass interspersed amongst other displays to represent the stained glass which fills the windows. In the Trinity Chapel, behind the High Altar, is a large turquoise frame filled with hanging glass vases, each containing a different posy. Suspended with garden twine over moss and mirrors, this installation is intended to encourage people to pause, to appreciate the importance of spending time in thought and mindfulness, a lesson we all learnt during Lockdown and not one that should be abandoned now that the world is returning to normality. Next to it, Bishop Osmund's tomb is covered with a display which recreates the bejewelled golden canopy which once covered his tomb until it was destroyed during the Reformation. Both of the transepts have been put to good use for the festival. The floor of the south transept is covered with hundreds of jam jars, each filled with colourful wildflowers and grasses chosen for their popularity with pollinators; poppies, foxgloves, marigolds and grasses. These represent the Coronation Meadows which are currently growing outside the Tower of London and also reflect the environmental theme of the festival. Amongst the jam jars, which flow in curvy drifts, are little wooden butterflies and straw beehives, which hide discreet speakers. The air is filled with the sound of chirping birds and buzzing insects, bringing the outside in and showing the cathedral's commitment to NoMowMay, an initiative to encourage people to let their lawns run wild to encourage insect life. In the North Transept there are twice daily demonstrations of flower arranging, where you can sit and watch the experts at work while listening to live music. It is a very soothing way to spend some time; listening to two excellent musicians on piano and violin while watching people who can transform an empty jar into a coordinated and impressive arrangement. They made it look so easy, which I'm sure it is not. Down the aisles of the nave are further arrangements, including some wonderfully quirky ones for the theme of Celebrating British Culture. A punk with a flowery mohican is next to a maypole, a recreation of a Beatles album cover competes with a Banksy and a traditional afternoon tea. Outside in the Cloisters are further displays. Brightly coloured flowers hang from the arches to represent the four seasons, while nearby is an arrangement of yellow sunflowers and blue delphiniums to remind us of the people in Ukraine. Other installations focus on recycling, with flowers growing out of cheerfully repurposed containers, while on the west cloister we see the liturgical year represented, with Christmas, Easter and other significant events in the church's calendar portrayed through flowers. In the middle of the Cloisters on the grass under the magnificent cedar trees, are two metal sculptures of deer, nibbling at flowers. They look completely at home and I do hope the cathedral keeps them there long after the festival has finished. The whole festival is a wonderful, life-affirming display of beauty, creativity and whimsy. It must be incredibly hard to organise so many different people who all have to work against time to create something so spectacular before it fades and withers. Even the programmes were printed the day before the event so that the photographs were accurate. It is an impressive achievement and one which cannot fail to put a smile on visitors' faces. See the cathedral website for details of the next flower festival


    The Pallant House Gallery in Chichester on the south coast of Hampshire, is a great discovery for the art lover. It’s of particular delight to the Slow Traveller because of the wide open expanses of the various rooms – allowing for plenty of unhurried time and space to view each painting individually without crowds or pressure. It’s an unusual gallery – the building is a mixture of the original Queen Anne townhouse built in 1712 and an award-winning contemporary extension added in 2006. It was opened in 1982 and today has one of the most significant collections of Modern British Art in the UK. It has a permanent collection but regularly stages temporary exhibitions of some of Britain’s most iconic modern artists. The permanent exhibition is very cleverly curated to display each work of art to maximum advantage. The ceilings are high, the walls are light, the floors – stone tiles, wooden blocks, rush carpet – are deliberately neutral and plain, adding to the sense of open and uncluttered space. Against the walls are also displayed some single items of 18th century mahogany furniture – which, initially, you might assume would not work well with modern art – but in fact each piece adds to the sense of grandeur within the rooms. Nothing detracts from a study of the paintings, each one is enhanced by its setting. Yet, for all the tranquillity, these galleries have the power to surprise and startle. As you turn a corner or enter a new room you can be suddenly amazed by the unexpected – a Barbara Hepworth statue such as Single Form, Nocturne, Peter Blake’s striking and dramatic red panel entitled Love or the stunning and colourful Composition for a Staircase by Lothar Gotz. The permanent collection takes the visitor from the early 20th century up to the present day, and a few objects from the comprehensive collection are mentioned here. The first galleries contain works as such as The Garden Path by Spencer Gore, one of the many talents coming from the Slade School of Fine Art at the turn of the 19th century, and Bathers by the Pond by Duncan Grant, a composition painted at Charleston, the artistic home of the Bloomsbury Group. After the First World War, artists such as Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Mark Gertler looked for inspiration in traditional landscapes, yet the horror of war returned again with artists such as Graham Sutherland whose War, Devastated Valley in France is on display here. One of the largest and most powerful paintings is that of The Estuary by Michael Andrews which has a sense of aerial perspective over fishermen, seeming to suggest their relative insignificance to the power of the sea and the vastness of the land around them. The theme of human fragility in the force of nature is reflected in Bill Woodrow’s bronze Regardless of History. The exhibition continues with artists whose work reflects Cubism, Neo-Romanticism to Pop and Neo-classicism to contemporary art. Bridget Riley’s Study for Measure 51 and 46 , inspired by pointillist artist George Seurat is here, as is the work of the French Cubist painter Jean Metzinger entitled The Scaffolding. Two portraits stand out – Lucian Freud’s Portrait of a Girl and the alarming and tortured self-portrait by Victor Willing. Along with the permanent exhibition, new exhibitions are regularly introduced. In 2022 the focus is on Glyn Philpot’s work. There will always be something to attract the visitor and encourage new ways of thinking and looking at the world. Visiting Pallant House Address: Pallant House Gallery, 8 – 9 North Pallant, Chichester, PO19 1TJ How to get there: Chichester Railway Station is an 8 minute walk away. There are 10 car parks within easy walking distance The bus station is a few minutes walk away. Buses from Felpham, Bognor Regis, Portsmouth and Littlehampton. Opening Times: Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm Sunday/Bank Holiday 11am – 5pm Ticket Prices: Adults £12.50, Art Fund Members £6.50. Half price when the gallery is changing exhibitions. The Courtyard Café is available on site for coffees, lunch and afternoon tea.


    St Paul's is one of the most defining landmarks of the capital, its large dome instantly recognisable as a symbol of the city's defiant rise from the ashes after the Great Fire of London, as well as its remarkable survival of the Blitz during World War II. Today it is a living, thriving church, not just a tourist attraction but a place of worship and music. Although it can be a busy place, it is still possible to visit it the Slow Travel way and to experience the stillness and peace within its ancient stone walls. Skip to: A Brief History of St Paul's >> What to see in St. Paul's Tombs and Memorials >> Climb the dome >> St Paul's for the Slow Traveller >> Check availability and book your ticket >> A Brief History of St Paul's There has been a place of worship called St Paul's on this site on Ludgate Hill for centuries. In 604, the Saxons established a Christian church inside the old Roman walls in the city of Ludenwic. There may well have been an earlier Roman church or temple on this same site, although there is no remaining evidence of one. The fate of the first St Paul's is not known, but its successor was destroyed by fire in 962, being rebuilt the same year. King Æthelred the Unready was buried in the cathedral in 1016, his tomb lost when that one burnt down in 1087, along with much of the city. The fourth St Paul's was built by the Normans and survived for centuries, on the receiving end of much damage caused by the English Reformation, the Civil War and the Commonwealth, until it was gutted by fire in the Great Fire of London of 1666. The new cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who as Kings Surveyor was in charge of the rebuilding of over 50 churches in the capital after the Great Fire. It was he who created the great dome, having first built a smaller version on his local church St Stephen Walbrook. St Paul's dome is the highest in the world and the cathedral has a full length crypt which is the largest in Europe. The current St Paul's has survived two attempted bombing attempts by the Suffragettes in 1913 and 1914, both bombs being discovered before they exploded. (The remains of one of these bombs is on display in the City of London Police Museum.) St Paul's also survived the Blitz as although it did receive some damage, none of it was enough to causes irreparable harm. St Paul's became a symbol for the plucky Londoner who defiantly withstood the German onslaught. Visiting St Paul's St. Paul's is on many visitors' London Bucket List, not just for its astonishing beauty, or being the final resting place for many famous writers, artists, military and more, but also for the far-reaching views you can get over the city if you climb to the top of its iconic dome. There is no denying the incredible beauty of the cathedral. As you walk through the entrance you may well be taken aback by the sheer size and vastness of the interior. The nave is lined with soaring arches, with a huge marble baptismal font elevated on steps which fills the whole of the west end. The black and white tiled floor, white walls, dark wood and flashes of gold create a rich, vibrant interior, with intricate decorations and carvings and it is a real visual feast. The ceiling over the quire is incredible and worth spending some time looking at with blues, greens, browns and gold creating a stunning effect. The whole building is light and airy, with countless clear glass windows to let the natural light flood in. What to see in St. Paul's Tombs and Memorials There are hundreds of tombs and memorials within the walls of St. Paul's, which range from simple plaques on a wall to hugely ornate and elaborate sculptures. A lot of them are in the Crypt below the building, many of them well known figures from the past four centuries. Here are just a tiny handful of the great and the good you will find immortalised within its walls. Sir Christopher Wren The first burial in the present day cathedral was Sir Christopher Wren, who designed it. He died in 1723 at the age of 91 and is buried in the Crypt, with his daughter, sister and brother-in-law. The epitaph was written by his eldest son and reads: Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 91 This same epitaph is inscribed in the floor underneath the dome, around the sun which is the central motif underneath the dome. There is also a block of stone bearing his mark which was found in Portland, where the stone comes from, and was shipped to St Paul's in 1972 along with other Portland stone used for restoration work. T.E Lawrence There is a memorial to TE Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia, on the walls of the crypt. The bust was created by Eric Kennington, illustrator of his book "Seven Pillars of Wisdom." and was installed in St Paul's, alongside other great military leaders, a year after his premature death near his Dorset retreat of Clouds Hill. Florence Nightingale Florence Nightingale died in 1910 at the age of 90 and although offered a burial at Westminster Abbey, her relatives declined and she is buried in the village where her family had a home, East Wellow in Hampshire. Due to public demand, a memorial service was held for her at St. Paul's and the memorial installed in the crypt some years later. It depicts Florence Nightingale holding a glass of water for a bedridden soldier with a bandaged head. You can learn more about the work of Florence in the Florence Nightingale Museum near Waterloo. Dr. Samuel Johnson Dr. Johnson, who lived and worked nearby is shown looking rather idealised, with a muscly body, draped in a toga and resting on a scroll. Portraits of the time show him to be a rather chubby and unattractive fellow, and the enhancements he has been gifted in this statue tell us more about the esteem in which he was held, rather than being a copy of his looks. He is famed of course for creating the first dictionary as well as being a highly intelligent man, conversationalist and man of letters. Battle of Trafalgar Lord Nelson, considered one of the greatest naval commanders in history, is buried in his own crypt in a huge marble sarcophagus. Laid out in the Painted Hall at Greenwich after his death at Trafalgar in 1805, he was buried with full honours at St Paul's in a display of mass mourning across the country. His tomb is joined by others who fought at the battle, such as Captain John Cooke who was killed when he was commander of HMS Bellerophon. He is remembered for having died in face to face combat with the French, who were picking off the officers on the quarterdeck. Failing to remove his distinctive captain's epaulettes in time, he said 'It is too late to take them off. I see my situation, but I will die like a man'. As the French boarded the ship, he fought them off by hand until he was shot in the chest and died shortly afterwards. Similarly there is an equally elaborate memorial to Captain George Duff, Commander of the HMS Mars. Decapitated by a canon ball at the start of the battle, his headless corpse was carried around the ship by his men giving three cheers in his memory, before he was buried at sea after the battle. All three men were reported as heroes in the official report of the battle and all are commemorated near each other in the crypt. The Battle of Waterloo Just ten years after the Battle of Trafalgar was another era defining battle. The Battle of Waterloo, that great victory over Napoleon in 1815, led to many of the officers involved being given awards and honours, including burial and memorial in St. Paul's. This includes of course the Duke of Wellington, who was given a state funeral in St Paul's and laid to rest in a huge granite sarcophagus in the crypt, after spending several days lying in state at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where you can still see the table he was laid out on. He is not the only person who fought at Waterloo who is commemorated in the crypt. You can also see a hugely ornate and over-the-top memorial to Major General Ponsonby, who was captured and killed by French lancers in the Battle of Waterloo. There is also a small plaque to Captain Alexander Macnab, a Company Commander who led about 200 soldiers into battle twice during the three days of Waterloo until he was killed by grapeshot. There are other memorials aplenty to military leaders, Field Marshalls and Admirals, their officers and their campaigns lining the walls of the crypt. Gallipoli, Kuwait, Falklands, Boer, Uganda, the World Wars and more are recorded, as well as individual memorials to the men. Sculptures of bewhiskered men with craggy faces, serious expressions and sculpted medals adorning their chests gaze out at you. These conquerors of the colonies are joined by the men who ran it, with memorials to assorted Premiers and Governors of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Rhodesia, India, Peking and others, old men with their mutton chop beards and sense of righteous superiority. It is not all about Empire building though. There are artists such as Henry Moore, John Millais, J M W Turner, Joshua Reynolds, John Henry Foley and Van Dyck, the latter having been buried in the previous St Paul's and given a new memorial in this one. There are writers such as the poet John Donne who is standing on an urn in a rather bizarre shroud, William Blake, Charles Read who has now sunk into literary obscurity and George Smith who wrote the first Dictionary of National Biography. Musicians are represented by Hubert Parry, who wrote the music to Jerusalem (words by the abovementioned William Blake), and Arthur Sullivan, one half of the famous operetta duo who has the most ostentatious memorial you will find in nearby Embankment Park. Scientists include Sir Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin, and founder of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Henry Wellcome. The well known architect Lutyens, principal architect of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and designer of many of their most famous memorials, is also honoured with his own memorial. These are all joined by dedications to hundreds who have now passed into obscurity; extravagant memorials erected in gratitude for works or deeds that have not survived in the public consciousness, or those who were never really in it. Some are known only to those in the local area - clergy, organists and clerks to the cathedral. There is a huge wooden door which is a memorial to the choristers killed during World War I, with the names of the choristers from World War II added at the bottom, a very sad sight. St Paul's Dome The magnificent dome is truly spectacular from below, but it can also be climbed. There is a small doorway off to one side near the transept and you can climb the steep, spiral steps up to the top. The first stop is the Whispering Gallery which is where you can look down over the ornate interior of the dome, and also 'play with the whispers', the unique structure meaning you can hear someone whispering on the other side. The second stop is the Stone Gallery where you can look out through the balustrade on the roof and see a part of the view outside. The final stop is the Golden Gallery, where you can walk all around the very top of the dome and get some incredible views. Some of the journey to the top takes you through rooms which were never intended to be seen, dark stone walls covered in graffiti, both ancient and modern. It is 527 steps to the very top with no lift, a mixture of stone spiral staircase and metallic ones. These pass the interior cone which holds the dome up, a hidden structure which is integral to the dome's design and and which gives a fascinating insight into how it was constructed. It is a long way up and can get really tiring, so bear that in mind before starting out! The Exhibition and other things to see In the crypt is an exhibition about the construction of the cathedral, with some original objects on display and a timeline of its many incarnations. There are also several smaller chapels, some with artwork or sculptures over the altar. There is quite a lot of artwork within the cathedral, who are currently doing a '50 Monuments in 50 Voices' project, giving artists the chance to re-interpret some of the more contentious monuments within the building. St Paul's for the Slow Traveller The cathedral opens at 8.30 to visitors on all days except for Wednesdays and Sundays. If you are able to visit at that time, you will find it a peaceful place with plenty of space to explore without the crowds. It won't take long though before the other visitors start to arrive and it soon fills up. What I would suggest instead is to book your entry tickets for later in the day, maybe about 2.30 - 3pm. This will give you time to explore the church, the crypt, to climb the dome and do all of the touristy bits. There is a lot to see and you should allow at least a couple of hours to do it justice. When you are finished and your legs are exhausted, especially if you have climbed the 527 steps to the top, you can then take a seat under the dome and wait for Evensong, which is at 5pm every evening. Evensong gives you the chance to just sit quietly and listen to beautiful music as you take in the extraordinary surroundings. The whole cathedral falls silent; the phones are put away, the chatting ceases, the wandering stops, it is time to sit quietly, listen to the music soaring through the high ceilings and admire the mosaics, the dome and your ancient surroundings. You can drift into a contemplative stillness, watch the rituals and just be. It is a moment of peace within the noise and chaos that can be London, and is the best way to feel a part of and a sense of belonging to this magnificent building. If it is term time you will hear the Cathedral Choir; in the school holidays they usually have visiting choirs, who are just as good to listen to. You can find out more on their service schedule, as well as detailed information on attending a service on their website. There is no need to be a practising Christian; the service is attended by tourists from across the globe, you don't need to sing, just sit quietly and listen. You can collect an order of service from the stewards which will tell you what will be happening and when so you can follow along. Visiting St. Pauls Nearest tube station: St Paul's Opening hours for sightseeing: Monday to Saturday 8.30am (10am on Wednesday) to 4.30pm Last sightseeing entry 4pm. Ticket Prices: Adult: £18 Child: £7.70


    Glastonbury Abbey Medieval Fayre is an annual history festival which takes place over two days each April. The fayre is a mixture of living history, family fun and gentle British eccentricity at its finest, all in the beautiful surroundings of this most venerable and picturesque of ancient sites. The Abbey is at the heart of Glastonbury, that small Somerset town known to people across the globe as home to the world famous music festival. Few of them know however that the town is a fascinating place to visit in its own right, with a long and varied history which stretches back across the centuries, with its focus, the abbey, once one of the wealthiest and most influential in the country. A Brief History of Glastonbury Abbey The abbey dates back to at least the 7th century, although legend has it that it was founded in the 1st century by Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus who arranged his burial. It is also closely tied to the legend of King Arthur, when the monks of the 12th century declared they had found his bones and those of Guinevere buried in the abbey under a stone inscribed, 'Here lies Arthur, king'. The Holy Grail, the object of King Arthur's quest, is said to be buried under Glastonbury Tor, a hill with a stone monument which overlooks the abbey. The abbey is not just the place of legends as it was also once one of the finest in the country, second only to Westminster. It held vast lands, huge wealth and pilgrims travelled from far and wide to visit, all of which was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Glastonbury Abbey today The abbey grounds are truly beautiful and I think they may be the most picturesque ruins I have ever visited. Its not just the fact that the ruins are quite substantial, even three storeys in places, with the soft yellow stone standing out vividly against the fresh green grass and pale blue sky, it is that they have so much ornate detail left on the brickwork, elevating them beyond crumbling ruins to buildings you can clearly imagine as impressive, functioning hubs of the community. You can see the ornamentation on the walls, arches and around the windows, the elements still clear even though the stone has mellowed over the years. The ruins of the Lady Chapel, built in the 12th century, have a magnificent doorway carved with sculptures from the Life of the Virgin Mary, intricate and finely detailed biblical scenes which are still obvious. They were described in the 13th century as 'stories of the most beautiful workmanship, omitting no possible ornament' and that still holds true today. The fact that you can still see the skill and detail centuries later is quite remarkable. There are several buildings left of the ruins, as well as the outline of several more. The Lady Chapel still has its undercroft and crypt, including a holy well which is possibly Roman in origin. There is the Abbot's kitchen, a huge intact building with a fireplace in each corner, a complete 15th century chapel dedicated to St Patrick, a museum packed with information and artefacts, as well as the grave of King Arthur and the Holy Thorn. This is a specific type of hawthorn which unusually flowers twice a year, in Winter and Spring, and which is said to be grafted from the original holy thorn brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. The whole site is about 36 acres, filled with meadowland and hundreds of trees. Areas have been left to grow wild creating a profusion of spring growth; white cow parsley, purple bluebells intertwined with cleavers, the odd yellow primrose, the blue and purple of self-seeded lungwort. Even in April, before the trees have yet to burst into leaf, it is a beautiful sight. Narrow paths weave through the undergrowth, openings are cut through the trees where you can find a bench under a weeping willow looking out over a pond or rest in a quiet, shady clearing hidden from view. Surrounding it all are thick stone walls, themselves Grade II listed. Peeping over the top you can see the roofs of nearby houses and the imposing tower of St John's Church in the town. In the distance are the curves of the Mendip Hills with the enigmatic Glastonbury Tor rising above them. Glastonbury Abbey Medieval Fayre This picturesque setting could not be more suitable for a Medieval Fayre, and the people of Glastonbury could not be better participants. Already a town known for their alternative dress sense and lifestyles, they embrace the invitation to dress in medieval costume, mixing their usual flower headdresses and pixie hats with wimples and billowing cloaks. The result is a colourful, joyful feast for the eyes. The Fayre has a lot on offer. The main events are the performances; jousting, juggling, medieval music, archery displays, theatre shows, jesters and talks. The highlight was definitely the jousting, by the group Steamhorse, professional stunt riders who put on a highly entertaining display of medieval jousting and knight skills. With a funny compere, a slick script and some wonderful costumes and showmanship, they attracted huge crowds for their performances. A fire-eating juggler kept crowds of kids laughing, a trio of medieval musicians had the audience singing along, and there was a fight between different factions of armoured soldiers which the commentator used as a way to teach people about the development of armour over the centuries, "this new lot in the later armour all sound like shopping trollies". It's not just entertainment for the youngsters though, as I went to several talks which take place in a quiet tent away from the hubub, many by archaeologists and academics. One talk I heard was by an archaeologist from the nearby Avalon Marshes, who talked about the famous Sweet Track found in the Somerset Levels, one of the earliest trackways ever found which dates from the Neolithic, a reminder of just how historically important this area of the country is. There are plenty of activities for people to try, with kids and adults alike queuing up to try axe-throwing, archery skills, leather stamping and medieval croquet. Traders are intermingled across the site selling a huge variety of goods with food, mead, clothing, jewellery, blankets, Lewes Chessmen for your garden, leather goods, even animal skins, which were sold with the wonderful summons, 'Come and get your flat cows here'. Alongside the activities and spread across the grounds you will find countless living historians. They set up their temporary homes, either pavilion style tents or a canvas shelter on poles, and lay out the tools of their trade. All are dressed in medieval attire to fit with their chosen time - 'medieval' covers many centuries - clothes and customs changed several times over the era and dedicated living historians ensure they are as accurate as possible to both time and place. Living historians are a dedicated bunch devoting much time and energy to their craft, who like nothing better than imparting their enthusiasm of their subject. The depth of their knowledge is incredible and visitors wandering past will find themselves asking questions and getting stuck in to some really in depth conversations. These historians form a sort of living tableau on this ancient site. When not talking to visitors they just go about their daily medieval lives; cooking, stitching leather, weaving, spinning, chopping firewood. Their kids run around in medieval dress playing at their mother's feet, learning how to grind flour on millstones or prepare a simple meal. I watched a man being dressed in his knight's armour, his squire helping him to put the clunky outfit on, a ritual that dates back across centuries. Some of the living historians were sitting alone outside their tents, absorbed in their tasks. One man in a sea of colourful tents was completely focused on his stitching, oblivious to what was around him, another was in a far flung corner of the abbey grounds surrounded by trees, chopping wood with a calm intensity. At one tent was a woman just sitting completely still with a beatific smile on her face. They all gave off a strong sense of meditative purpose, relishing their journey back through time. One of the most fascinating attractions of the Fayre is the visitors themselves. The locals are a quirky bunch anyway, but add the medieval aspect into the mix and you get a real visual treat. The authentic muted felts, canvas and weaves of the serious historians was enhanced by the dressing-up style outfits from some of the visitors, bright colourful velour gowns and headdresses from the ebay version of 'Ye Olde Englande'. Mix this with their usual attire of floaty skirts, harem trousers, dreadlocks, clothes that jangle as you walk and top it all off with a flowing cloak, and the audience become just as fascinating as the event itself. By the end of the day I was quite used to being surrounded by people in capes and in fact I almost felt left out to not have my own to billow behind me in the occasional gusts that we had on that sunny day. Everyone seemed so cheery, with family groups spreading out picnics on the grass, older people in folding chairs or resting on shooting sticks to watch the fun. Teenagers really entered into the spirit of things with lots dressed up, their blue hair, heavy eye make up and leather corsets adding a modern flavour to their smocks and tabards. Groups of friends hung out chatting under the tall trees, almost hidden by the frothy cow parsley which danced around them, others took endless photos, posing in their outfits against the beautiful backdrop. A ‘priest’ in a habit and a pair of sturdy hi-tech walking boots walked his dog around the site, cloak streaming behind him. A woman in harem trousers and a trilby meditated under a tree in splendid isolation, others lay flat on the grass with eyes closed, faces upturned to the watery April sun. Kids ran around, leaping on and off the foundations or having endless battles with their new weaponry, the crack of wooden sword against wooden shield echoing around the site. As the day drew on and the shadows grew longer, parents could be heard meeting resistance as they tried enticing their children to leave the fun and head home. I was in private agreement with the kids, it is a lovely place to spend time and I too was reluctant to call it a day. It is a vibrant, educational and fascinating day out, and one I heartily recommend to anyone. Visiting Glastonbury Abbey Medieval Fayre The Fayre takes place over a weekend every April. Keep an eye on their website or sign up to their mailing list to be notified of the dates. Glastonbury Abbey is open year round to visitors, every day from 10am - 6pm. You can book in advance or buy tickets on the door. Visit the Glastonbury Abbey website for further details >>


    There’s a compelling attraction cast by medieval doom paintings in many parish churches in quiet corners of Britain – a chance for us to stand, as our forebears did, to look at the message spelled out clearly about the consequences of sin and, alternately, the rewards for a good life. There are around 60 Doom Paintings left in the UK, all in various stages of deterioration, and here at Slow Travel we are visiting those we pass on our travels. In the days when most church goers could not read, the Church could dominate people’s lives through graphic illustration of the Day of Judgement or the Weighing of Souls when a person’s life comes to an end. On that day an individual’s sins would be balanced against his good deeds, and his fate decided – either to be sent to sit at the right hand of God in the eternal paradise of Heaven or be condemned for ever in the searing fires of Hell. It was a simple and stark idea, designed to encourage conformity. However, these paintings were largely destroyed or whitewashed over during the Reformation of the 16th century when the Catholic belief in purgatory was discouraged, and faith was considered to be the road to salvation. Happily, some have been discovered under their layers of paint, some have been restored, and here we choose some of the best to visit. St Thomas Church, Salisbury, Wiltshire The biggest and best preserved of them all, this Doom Painting in the heart of Salisbury is a dramatic depiction of the fate that could befall the churchgoers if they strayed from the path of righteousness. It depicts Christ in the centre sitting on a rainbow with the apostles at his feet. On his left are the virtuous emerging from their graves, escorted by angels, on his right are the sinners being dragged by demons into the mouth of a fire breathing dragon. Unusually for a Doom Painting, the demons are impish little things rather than pitchfork-clutching, hulking beasts. You can read more about the St. Thomas Doom Painting here >> All Saints, Catherington, Hampshire The approach to All Saints, Catherington, is in itself attractive as the war memorial stands in the centre of the long swathe of grass leading to the entrance. The church’s best feature is on the north wall of the nave where there is a dramatic 14th century depiction of St Michael the Archangel weighing the souls of the departed to determine their passage either to Heaven or to Hell. This is a similar theme to that of the Day of Judgement – upon death your sins and virtues will be weighed and will decide your passage from purgatory - either to sit with Christ or to burn forever in the fires of Hell. Here the Archangel Michael is drawn with outstretched wings, holding an upraised sword in one hand and a weighing scale in the other. A bundle of souls is suspended on the scales and a wicked demon with a sinister curled tail is tugging at the balance beam, trying to pull as many of these unfortunate souls as possible down to eternal damnation. To counterbalance this, the Virgin Mary stands at the other end of the weighing beam and is holding it steady to prevent the poor individuals going to their hellish fate. She holds another pan of the scales with an anxious head already in it, and seems to be intending to save at least this one from the fires of hell. As well as imparting its clear message about the need to live a virtuous life, this painting glorifies the qualities of the Virgin Mary – her ability and compassion for all as the mother of Christ. The head of St Michael looks suspiciously Victorian rather than medieval and is probably the result of a well meaning but clumsy restoration. But the message to the medieval congregation is powerful and strong – a good life will guarantee your place in Heaven. Visit All Saints, Catherington Doom Painting >> South Leigh and North Leigh, Oxfordshire One wonders which of these two churches was the first to commission a doom painting and whether some parochial envy inspired the second! These are two vibrant and dramatic 15th century interpretations of the Day of Judgement, with eternal bliss awaiting the Saved and the torment of hell assigned for the Damned. St. James the Great, South Leigh In the church at St James the Great at South Leigh the artist has taken the entire chancel arch and part of both the north and south walls to give his warning to the congregation below. Unusually there is no Christ in Judgement dominating the picture. Instead there are two scrolls at the apex – one reads Benedicti patris mei (Come, ye blessed of my father) written above those souls who are to be welcomed into heaven, the other is direct and brutal Discedite, maledicti (Depart, ye cursed) above those heading for damnation. For the illiterate the message is graphically illustrated below the scrolls. Two angels with trumpets boldly announce the end and the recently departed are sent either side to their fate. Traditionally the Saved are depicted on the left of the arch (the right hand of God) and the Damned on the right. So on the left of the arch we see the magnificent architecture of Heaven – splendid towers with friendly angels, St Peter with his keys welcoming in those who have lived a life of piety and good deeds. Those to be accepted into this glorious future rise naked and contented from their graves. On the right of the arch the fate of those whose lives have been blighted by sin is dramatic and uncompromising. They are chained together – no one is spared – the figures include a King, a Queen, priests and a bishop. (Curiously the number of legs do not match the number of bodies, but whether this is accidental or not we shall never know – was there perhaps some message here only obvious to late medieval minds?) Their faces are tortured and pleading as a yellow devil pushes them towards the blood-red dragon that is the Mouth of Hell. Another devil gleefully hauls on the chain to pull these tortured souls into Hell. There is no escape. South Leigh also has a Weighing of Souls, with St Michael in charge of the weighing but this has been much restored and is apparently twice the size of the original. On the North wall there is also an interpretation of the Seven Deadly Sins – small scorpion-like animals. The parishioners must have been in no doubt about the consequences of a wicked life and no doubt the words of the priests constantly reinforced the message. Visit South Leigh Doom Painting >> St Mary's Church, North Leigh The painting at St Mary’s North Leigh is smaller in dimensions, being a semi-circular tympanum painting above the chancel arch, but the painting is equally forceful in its import. Again, there is no central Christ figure. In the two middle sections we see the dead emerging stiffly from their coffins, leaving their shrouds behind them, uncertain of their fate. Those already accepted are being greeted by St Peter outside the gate of Heaven with his key in his left hand and his right extended in welcome: an angel above them trumpets their victory. But misery awaits the damned, which include a King and a bishop. The meaning is clear – no one, however powerful, however rich, can avoid the Day of Judgement and the horrors that it will bring to those who have not abided by God’s laws. These sinners are chained together with an angel above sounding their last trump and another standing guard with a sword. Their feet are already being lapped by a pit of fire – red tongues of flame reaching for their bodies. One devil rises from the fire, two more – with particularly sinister and evil horns – ensure that the sinners are dragged down into the pit. Visit St. Mary's North Leigh Doom Painting >>


    At the end of 2022, the Museum of London closed its doors after nearly 50 years at its location near the Roman Wall, and is currently moving to a site in West Smithfield to re-open in 2025 with a new name - The London Museum. This free museum tells the story of London from pre-historic to contemporary times and is packed with some fascinating exhibits, and you will now have to wait a few years until you can see it again. The Museum of London opened to much fanfare in 1976 with the amalgamation of collections from around the capital. Located in the Barbican Estate just north of St Paul's, it is housed in a rather brutalist area of brick, glass and mid 20th century modernity, long on concrete and short on embellishment. However unattractive it is from the exterior, it is the contents that matter, and there are some wonderful exhibits inside. The museum was designed to be linear, with only one way to walk through it, following the chronology of the city from pre-history to recent. The first gallery starts, as you would expect, with London's ancient past - 'London before London, 450,000 BC - AD50'. This starts with bones from animals that are no longer associated with London - elephants, lions, monkeys and hippos, who lived in the area during the Ice Age with skulls, antlers and bones on display. Next are the flint tools, beautifully shiny, animal bones nicked with butchery marks, hand axes found where they fell 300,000 years ago, a full mammoths tusk, the foot of an elephant who got trapped and died while trying to cross the channel over 200,000 years ago, spear tips, and tools made from flints and antlers. There is the top of a skull of an adult male who died 3600BC which was found by a mudlarker, some beautiful stone maceheads and as we move forward through time, decorated beakers which may have been thrown into the Thames with offerings to the ancestors inside as the owners stood on a wooden jetty dating from 1700BC, London's first bridge. Moving forward again we start to get bronze and gold with earrings, armlets, razors and tweezers. The arrival of the Romans in AD50 produces imported goods, such as pottery which was copied by the locals, and an unusual burial, the Harper Road woman from AD50 found in Southwark, an unusual one as it was a burial rather than a cremation, iron nails found around the body show she was buried in a wooden coffin, with a bronze mirror and a pottery wine jar. As you would expect, the Roman Gallery produces statuary - some of which had later been reused as building material across the capital. There is a stone legionary found in the city wall, a centurion's tombstone found during the rebuilding of a church in Ludgate, pillars and tablets and marble inscriptions. There is graffiti from Quintus who scratched his name into the wall in the public baths, a complete horse skeleton from the 2nd century with harness, bridle, cart fittings and all the accessories, gold coins found in a safety deposit box hidden under the floor of a Roman home and never retrieved, mosaics and everyday objects shown in context with room displays of both poor and wealthy inhabitants of Londinium. There are many objects found at or near the Mithraeum, the Temple to Mithras which was the site of a secretive, underground cult who worshipped the god Mithras across Roman Europe. You can visit the remains of the temple, for free, which is just a 15 minute walk away. Here in the museum though you will find the original central medallion from the temple of the 'bull slaying scene' as well as stone altars, busts, figurines and sculptures all from the Temple. As we move into the 5th century, London is deserted, with inhabitants moving away and the city falling into ruin. Newcomers, the Saxons, set up home in the countryside around the crumbling city. We move through the Saxons where there are some beautiful items on display - brooches of bronze, decorated with gold and garnets, iron cauldrons, imported pottery. They established Ludenwic to the west of the Roman city, building a Christian church, St. Paul’s, inside the Roman walls. Ludenwic survived until the Viking invasions in the 9th century and then like Londinium, passed into the pages of history, becoming Lundenburgh under King Alfred. We move to the medieval period with colourful painted glass beakers from Italy, glazed jugs from France, metalwork from Germany, even woollen stockings, coins, seals, rings, buckles. Texts start to make an appearance, with pages from Chaucer and Greek grammar books for schools. The presence of religion steps up, with reliquaries, a vast oak church door, statues, crosses, alms dishes, collection bowls and a bible. On display is a beautiful golden cup called The Grace Cup, presented to the Guild of Barber Surgeons by Henry VIII. London Delftware makes an appearance, as does a plate which once belonged to Pepys, one of only three still in existence. The Civil War with its muskets, armour and pikes leads to the plague with mourning rings, a plague spoon, clay pipes smoked by Londoners thinking tobacco could cure them of the plague, and which you can still find mudlarking on the Thames. There is a room dedicated to the Great Fire of London, painted with vivid red walls and filled with remnants - a pair of ash filled child's shoes, a bible with burnt pages, melted glass, pottery melted and stuck together, decorative tiles found in Pudding Lane where the fire started, which had been swept as rubble into a cellar after the fire, a fire bucket and a plaque which had been attached to the Monument to the Great Fire of London near the Pudding Lane bakery site in 1681, blaming the fire on the Catholics and Robert Hubert, a madman who confessed to starting the fire. The next gallery is the 18th century where the focus is fashion, shopping and the detritus found from this time - broken crockery, bottles, earthenware, and combs dropped or discarded by Londoners. On display is a sword of honour presented to Lord Nelson by the Corporation of London, his victories in the Nile and at Trafalgar securing overseas trade routes which were so vital to the businesses of London. Its a beautiful piece with a golden handle. My most favourite part of the whole museum was the prison cell from Wellclose Prison. About 10 x 6 feet and lined with oak planks, this cell was part of a small courthouse near the Tower of London. It was in use around the 1750s and its walls are covered in graffiti and pictures all overlaid from the countless inhabitants of the cell. There are tall ships complete with accurate rigging, trees, birds, a Scots thistle, a gun, anchors and a variety of buildings including a church and pubs with hanging signs. Next to the cell is a door from the infamous Newgate Prison, near the Old Bailey and in use for over 700 years. This door dates from around 1780 and is a huge, oppressive iron door, covered in locks and rivets. The displays move to the Victorian and Edwardian, with a street of London businesses - shops, offices, a pub, a pharmacist. The famous Broadstreet pump is centre stage, the source of cholera which led to its discovery and eradication. The suffragettes make an appearance with their banners, rosettes, badges and a glistening colourful brooch given to suffragist Millicent Fawcett in 1913. Cars, Lyons teahouses, the Pearly Kings lead to the geometric outfits of the 1960s, and the smashed guitar of The Clash's bass player. The museum ends with The Cauldron from the Olympics in 2012 which were hosted in the capital. This was the centrepiece for the games and burned throughout the event, a time of national celebration in the UK when everything seemed to be going well for the country for once. On display with it are the steel stems and petals used in its construction. It is a fascinating, galloping race through hundreds of thousands of years of London‘s history and one I highly recommend doing. Some of these objects may well go on tour over the next three years, but this is your last chance to see them all together for now. The move to the London Museum, less than half a mile away in the old Smithfield Market, looks to be a promising one, and I just hope they keep some of these wonderful artefacts on display. Visiting the Museum of London Museum of London, 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN Nearest tube stations: St. Paul's and Barbican (both a 5 min walk) Open daily 10am - 5pm Free to visit


    Accessible only on foot and hidden away in woodland on the Dorset coast, the ruins of St. Luke's Chapel are a beautiful place of ancient history and modern day veneration, where walkers leave behind offerings on the altar, as well as makeshift memorials to their loved ones. Inside the ruins lie the graves of a family who once owned, and loved, this spot. High on the cliffs overlooking Chesil Beach and Weymouth is a small wooded copse called Ashley Chase Woods, one of several in the area that appear indistinct and uninspiring from the outside. They are a part of the larger Ashley Chase Estate, 1000 acres of lush farmland where cattle graze to produce traditional farmhouse cheddar, made by hand to methods and recipes that date back hundreds of years. A Brief History of St. Luke's Chapel The area has been occupied for thousands of years, with the first evidence being an Iron Age hillfort from around 500BC, now known as Abbotsbury Castle, which is about a mile away from the chapel. It is situated on a high chalk hill overlooking the sea, and was once the front line of defence from invasion. It was occupied by the Celtic Durotriges tribe until the Roman invasion in AD 43, when it was conquered and probably abandoned. The land the chapel is built on was given to the monks of Netley Abbey, an early medieval Cistercian abbey in Southampton which was founded by the Bishop of Winchester in 1238 and initially occupied by a colony of monks from Beaulieu Abbey. A simple order committed to manual labour and self sufficiency, they were given a carucate (between 60 - 160 acres) of land by William de Liddington, in exchange for saying prayers for him in perpetuity. "Ashley in Litton Cheney, Dorset, a few miles west of Broad Waddon, was obtained in 1246 from the terre tenant of Litton, William de Liddington. It was assured by a final concord, made in the Common Bench in the week beginning 25th June 1246, and cast in a stereotyped form, whereby William admitted the right of Robert, Abbot of Edwardstowe to hold a carucate at Ashley as of his gift, in return for a share in the Abbey's prayers." * As dedicated farmers and labourers, they would have built the chapel of St. Luke's for the use of their small Cistercian community who worked a farm in Ashley as well as serving the medieval village of Sterte (Sturthill). According to author C J Bailey in his book The Bride Valley: ‘the chapel of St Luke was served by parsons from 1240 to 1545 when it became so impoverished that the living was left vacant ... by approximately 1545, both Sterte and the Chapel were abandoned and St Luke’s descended into ruin.’ The reason for the abandonment would have been the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII disposed of all religious orders. All that remains of the chapel is the west gable-end wall, an altar constructed from the debris with a crucifix of Christ wearing a crown, and four modern tombs. Two of these belong to David and Olga Milne-Watson, who built Ashley Chase House nearby in the 1920s and acquired ownership of the chapel. They loved the place so much that they hired workmen to save what was left of the ruin and were both buried in it. The third grave is that of one of their grandsons, Denys Reed. A fourth grave is for Harold Farrer - I have been unable to find his connection to the place. Visiting St. Luke's Chapel Unlike nearly everywhere else, particularly in the high tourist area of the Jurassic Coast, there is no signage, car park, shop, walking trails, maps or anything at all to indicate that St Luke's even exists, yet as you will see when you visit, it is a place of deep significance to the people who do. It is only accessible on foot. Most people enter the copse through a wooden gate just off Park's Lane - there is no parking on the road as it is so narrow, so if driving, you will have to park far away and walk there. It is worth it though. The copse is rather special in itself, being filled with a wide variety of flora and fauna, whatever the season. In spring it is filled with native English bluebells, and is a carpet of purple. There are rare orchids in abundance, violets and primroses. We visited in Autumn when the leaves were drifting off the trees, red berries were ripe and the fungi were looking plump and succulent. The trees are bent into interesting shapes, many clad in ivy, and there was a soft bounce underneath due to the profusion of moss. A strong stream runs through the copse, forceful enough that you can hear it clearly even over the exuberant birdsong. The chapel is on a small hill, with the stream running round two sides of it. You walk through the west wall, with the altar ahead of you, topped with a lichen clad, wooden crucifix with a small roof. Around the altar is a small clearing and the graves. There are tree trunks and stones lying around the outside, all just abandoned where they fell, half sunk into the soil, covered in moss with plants poking their way through the cracks. The first thing you may notice though are the temporary memorials which are all around the chapel. People leave stones, petals, picked ferns, food, drink and coins in memory of their loved ones, some with heartfelt messages of grief. There is something so moving about these informal memorials, where people aren't restricted by what they are allowed to inscribe on a gravestone, where whatever they leave they know will fade back into the ground. The altar is covered in them, but you can also find them in the nooks, crannies and corners of the west wall. There is no signage here, no information boards, nothing to tell you what to look at or what it means. They are just some beautiful and evocative ruins in a wood where you can sit, listen and observe. If you are lucky you will have the place to yourself, as we did - apparently it can get busy at weekends and bank holidays, especially when the weather is good, but there is a lot to be said for visiting in the colder months, so you can just sit and be in the stillness and birdsong. The silent night The early dawn The badgers come And the birds do sing You were my everything (Inscribed on the gravestone to Denys Christian Reed in St. Luke's) Visiting St. Luke's Chapel The entrance to Ashley Chase Woodland is near w3w:blurs.states.fairway. * Studies in 13th Century Justice and Administration by C.A.F. Meekings 1981


    Beaulieu Palace is a large country estate in Hampshire in the south of England. Surrounded by the New Forest and just a few miles from the sea, the area is an unspoilt corner of rural England. The palace and grounds are open to the public and contain the world famous National Motor Museum, extensive grounds, a museum to the World War II spies who trained there, several exhibitions and a monorail, with part of the house open to the public too. It makes for a fascinating, and full, day out in the country which will appeal to all ages. Photograph © Beaulieu Enterprises A BRIEF HISTORY OF BEAULIEU Beaulieu Abbey The land around this peaceful riverside forest was once used for a royal hunting lodge, before the construction of a Cistercian abbey in the 13th century, founded by King John. It was a huge and magnificent place to befit its royal status, central to which was a large church 102 metres long in a large cruciform shape which took over 40 years to build. Other buildings in the estate included a cloister, chapter house, infirmary, refectory, kitchens, storehouses, farm buildings, guesthouses, a mill, fishponds and vast gardens. Gatehouses controlled entry, with a water gate to allow ships to access the site. For centuries the abbey thrived under its special status, answerable only to the Pope, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid 16th century. The abbey and 8,000 acres of land were eventually sold to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. He gave the former refectory to the people of the village to use as their village church, which they still do today, demolished the abbey church and turned the former Great Gatehouse into a modest manor house. This, after much extension and adaptation, is the Palace House you see today, and his descendants still live in it over 400 years on. World War II During the war, the house acted as a ‘finishing school’ for agents from Group B of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) whose purpose was to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance across occupied Europe and to aid local resistance. 3000 agents were trained in what was known as ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’. Spies from all Allied nations were taught silent killing, housebreaking, safe-blowing, forgery, sabotage, survival techniques, how to resist interrogation, how to use secret inks, coding, black propaganda and a whole host of other nefarious skills. Such was the secrecy that neither the Montague family or the local villagers knew anything about what was going on. Violette Szabo was one agent who trained at Beaulieu, where she learnt escape and evasion, uniform recognition, communications and cryptography, as well as receiving further training in weaponry. She is the agent commemorated on the Monument to the SOE in London, a woman who died to protect the French Resistance leaders she was with on a mission, and who was later executed in a concentration camp. She is commemorated in the war memorial at Brookwood Military Cemetery, along with other members of the SOE. Post War Tourists have been visiting the site of the abbey since 1912, and in 1952, Edward, Lord Montagu also opened the Palace House and Gardens to the public, making Beaulieu one of the first stately homes to admit visitors. For the grand opening, he displayed five veteran cars in the entrance hall in tribute to his late father, John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, who was a motoring pioneer. This led to the creation of the National Motor Museum, the first permanent motor museum in the world and which is one of the top five across Europe. WHAT THERE IS TO SEE ON A VISIT TO BEAULIEU The National Motor Museum The Museum has over 285 vehicles, the oldest dating from 1875 and includes some amazing cars of all varieties. Some of the older cars are beautiful and immaculately preserved. There are cars from Formula One, four land speed record breakers including Sir Malcolm Campbell's 1920 Sunbeam, his son Donald Campbell's 1961 Bluebird-Proteus, and cars from popular films and TV shows, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Reliant Robin of Trotters Independent Traders, Mr. Bean's green mini and more. The museum has a lot more than just cars though, with a recreation of an old 1930s garage, an interactive exhibition on the evolution of cars and plenty more. There is also an exhibition of James Bond cars. The Secret Army Exhibition The SOE museum is tucked away in the grounds in the small unassuming, original building and is called The Secret Army Exhibition. It is packed with spy equipment, such as everyday items like dominoes and hairbrushes, all with secret compartments or a pen with a hidden compass and maps. Photographs © Beaulieu Enterprises There are exhibits of the more brutal side of their work, with knives and knuckle dusters, as well as a lot of information about the spies how they were trained, techniques used and how they died, as it was a dangerous job and at one point SOE radio operators had a life expectancy of just six weeks. The exhibition is well laid out, thoroughly absorbing and is manna from heaven for war historians. Remember before God those men and women of the European Resistance Movement who were secretly trained in Beaulieu to fight their lonely battle against Hitler's Germany and who before entering Nazi occupied territory here found some measure of the peace for which they fought. The World of Top Gear Other attractions in the grounds include a huge Top Gear exhibition with a room built just like the original stage set (the Enormodrome) and plenty of the beaten and battered relics that the presenters destroyed during filming. The display is kept right up to date and includes exhibits from the current series as well as previous ones. The Palace House The Palace House is lovely for a stately home - not too grand and one you can imagine actually living in without feeling like you are rattling around in it. It is mostly Victorian, as the family didn't start living here permanently until the mid 1800s. It includes a wonderful restored Victorian kitchen and a library which is accessed through a false bookshelf door. The Abbey The abbey ruins have been carefully conserved and there is still quite a lot to see. The ground plan of the 102-metre-long church can be seen with the position of the altar marked by a cross and trees. The Domus, once the lay brothers' refectory and lodgings, is now home to an exhibition of monastic life before the Dissolution and which tells the story of the Abbey. The parish church, once the refectory, is a sweet little church which you can visit, and there are substantial ruins of other buildings as well as the cloisters, which is planted with herbs. The Monorail and Vintage Bus Another first for the estate is its monorail, which is the oldest in England. This mile long track with two stations gives you a birds eye view over the grounds, and even runs right through the motor museum. Monorail photograph © Beaulieu Enterprises There is also a replica of a 1912 open top London bus which you can use to get around the site between two bus stops. The Palace Grounds The grounds are a good place for a walk, particularly if the sun is out. There is a Victorian Flower Garden, Victorian Kitchen Garden laid out as it was in 1872 with an old vine house, an Alice in Wonderland garden, a Wilderness Garden and a walk around the old Mill Pond where you can see a memorial cairn to William Rufus who was killed nearby (at the Rufus Stone in the New Forest), and some brilliant tree carvings. The grounds also contain assorted play parks for youngsters, with an adventure play park complete with zip wire, climbing wall and rope maze amongst other appealing attractions for kids. The site also has a restaurant and a large gift shop. Beaulieu is a great place for a full day out but there are lots of other sites to see while you are in the area. Just a mile away is Buckler's Hard, a beautiful riverside village with a Maritime Museum, living history, river cruises and more. Only 5 miles away is Lepe Beach - a golden sandy beach where you can still see plenty of relics from the D-Day landings. Inland is the New Forest with all of its many attractions. Visiting Beaulieu Palace House and Gardens Opening hours Open every day except Christmas Day from 10am Ticket Prices Adults: £23 Children aged 5-16: £12 The above prices are if you book tickets online the day before your visit Concessions and family tickets available How to get there: Train: The London to Weymouth train passes regularly through Brockenhurst, which is the closest main line station to Beaulieu. There is a taxi rank at the station and the cost of a journey to Beaulieu by taxi is approx £20. Alternatively, why not hire a bike and cycle the seven miles through the New Forest to Beaulieu? Cycle hire details can be found on the New Forest National Park cycle hire information website. Bus: The New Forest Tour’s Green Route links Beaulieu with Hythe Ferry (for Southampton), Lyndhurst, Brockenhurst (rail station) and Lymington. Tickets are valid all day on all routes and you can hop on and off wherever you like. For timetables and ticket information click here. Car: Come off Junction 2 of the M27 and head south on the A326. There is free parking on site. Book your Beaulieu tickets here >>


    Twice a year the famous water meadows in Harnham are drowned, a centuries old technique to flood the meadows next to Salisbury Cathedral. This traditional process is carried out by the Chief Drowner, wearing a bowler hat and clutching an antique drowning tool, followed by a crowd of curious locals. For many, it is the only chance to walk on the actual meadows, which are mostly off limits for the rest of the year. This unique experience is a very gentle, English way to visit such a natural yet historic site and to see this traditional farming practice in action. Water meadows are a relic of a bygone era, when men toiled the land, the seasons determined what we ate and farming was central to our lives, with the success of the crops leading to feast or famine for the community. Water meadows were used to improve the bounty of the crop. Once prevalent across much of England, particularly the chalkland rivers of southern England, they are now mostly gone, with just a few remaining. Those in Salisbury are possibly the most famous in the country, with beautiful views to Salisbury Cathedral, recognised by many from the John Constable paintings of the cathedral seen from across the water meadows. THE PURPOSE OF WATER MEADOWS Water meadows were an essential component of the ‘sheep and corn’ economy of Wiltshire for 400 years. Salisbury was famous in medieval times for its wool and cloth, with wool woven, fulled, dyed and exported across Europe from the nearby port of Southampton. Salisbury grew to be one of the largest towns in England by the 15th century, with a population of around 8,000. Large flocks of sheep were needed to supply the demand for the wool and to keep the prosperity going. Corn was another essential product and the sheep would graze on the meadows during the day and move to arable fields to enrich the soil with their dung and urine each evening, in what was known as the sheep fold system. Before the introduction of water meadows, the size of flocks was restricted by the amount of food available to sustain them throughout the winter, particularly during the ‘hungry gap’ in March and April when hay supplies were low and grass had not yet grown. Drowning the water meadows in winter was a way to encourage the grass to grow months before it would naturally. An early flood of water would warm the grass, bringing nutrients and oxygen and starting the grass growing much earlier than it would otherwise. Drowning created the movement of water across the meadow’s surface, preventing stagnant pools from forming and harming the grass. It was said that water should flow “on at a trot and off at a gallop”. Later on when the soil was drying out, the fields could be re-watered and an extra cut of hay taken to feed livestock. Larger sheep flocks could be kept, more manure produced and so arable cultivation could be extended to grow more corn. These unique drainage systems could increase the land's value by as much as sixty times its unimproved price. A BRIEF HISTORY OF WATER MEADOWS The control of water for farming dates back centuries. From the medieval period to the 17th century, irrigation in England was a simple process known as ‘floating upwards’, which involved blocking a watercourse, causing it to overflow and flood the surrounding farmland. Millers played a leading role in the development of water meadows, making mill ponds, drainage channels and hatches to control the flow of water. This could cause problems with water-logging so more sophisticated ‘floating downwards’ systems were developed to provide a constant movement of water and to control its flow. Two main forms of floating downwards were used: ‘catchworks’ and ‘bedworks’, each suited to different landscapes. Bedworks is the most sophisticated type of water meadow and is that which you will see in the Salisbury Water Meadows. The earliest bedwork systems are from Affpuddle, in Dorset, where documents refer to ditches and channels along the meadows of the River Piddle in 1605. From the 17th century onwards bedworks were created in large numbers, particularly in the chalkland areas of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. It is believed that the meadows in Harnham were created around 1660 and by the 1790s there were about 20,000 acres of water meadow in Wiltshire alone. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1803-1815, food prices increased significantly and more landowners and farmers invested in drainage systems, as the country had to try to become self-sufficient. The hay crop was particularly important in Harnham as they supplied the many coaching inns in Salisbury. By the late 19th century however, imports of cheap foreign grain, the introduction of artificial fertilisers and the break down of the sheep and corn farming system in Wessex all led to their decline. Water meadows drastically decreased in number as they became uneconomic, with mechanisation not a viable option on the soft, wet ground. Between 1918 and 1960 almost all water meadows were abandoned and levelled, with the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food offering grants to level old water meadows to encourage more efficient food production and World War II saw some of the land ploughed. In 1970 radial gates were installed in Harnham which saw the water levels drop dramatically so that much less was available for irrigation. HOW THE HARNHAM WATER MEADOWS WORK Bedwork systems have a main weir or dam to divert water from the river with subsidiary weirs and sluices (one-hatch weirs) on smaller carriers to ensure an even distribution of water. Early hatches were simple boards which slotted vertically into wooden frames or stone settings and were raised by peg and hole arrangements, and there are still some of these in the Harnham Water Meadows. They meadows are fed by two arms of the river Nadder, with the Nadder draining into that most famous of chalk streams, the Avon. As the Avon wends its way to sea, more water meadows feed from it, such as those at Britford, Charlton All Saints, Downton, Burgate, and Fordingbridge. (You can walk through some of the these water meadows all year round, just a few miles away.) The meadows were updated in the mid 19th century by the Earl of Pembroke, with new carriers, hatches and aqueducts added, with brick and cement used for hatch settings and some boards fitted with iron ratchet and crowbar raising mechanisms. Small bridges were also added to allow hay carts onto the area to carry the hay from the fields. DROWNING THE WATER MEADOWS After many years of neglect, the water meadows were taken over by the Harnham Water Meadows Trust in 1990. They bought Rose Cottage, which was once the Lock-Keepers Cottage, a Grade II listed house in the water meadows area which has a major water sluice and two important streams running through in the garden. The Trust raises money to restore the meadows, preserve the ancient irrigation system and create an environmental 'green lung' within the city of Salisbury. They hold several fundraising events throughout the year, one of which is the drownings. The drownings happen twice a year, a few weeks apart in February, and people can join the expert volunteers to watch this ancient process in action. I joined the crowd at Rose Cottage on a cold but incredibly sunny February morning. The Chief Drowner had Covid, but his deputy donned the requisite bowler hat, traditionally worn to show his status as Drowner, and with a small group of volunteers, one holding the megaphone and others holding up a map of the meadows, we were given a talk about the whole process. We started off at the stream in the garden of Rose Cottage, then moved en masse across Town Path into the meadows. These are normally off limits to visitors to preserve the delicate eco system, so after years of just admiring them from the Town Path, it was a real treat to be allowed through the gates. We followed the team around as sluices and hatches were opened, watching the water trickle across the lush green grass. As the water moved through the channels, kids in wellies got in, squealing with delight as the water raced towards them. We moved as a colourful flock across the green meadows, cameras snapping away, people chatting and laughing, dogs playing, kids running and splashing, with the cathedral a beautiful presence in the background. The Drowner carried an antique drowning tool with him, and with his bowler hat he just needed a smock to complete the image of a traditional Wiltshire farmer. The purpose of the pronged drowning tool remained a mystery until we got to see it in action - it is used to clear all of the debris from under the water near the hatch gates, so that the openings aren't clogged up with weeds, leaves and other detritus The final gate opening was the most fascinating. We lined the edges and watched as a wave moved from the hatch all the way down, going from a stream so still that you could see the clouds reflected perfectly in it, to a bubbling torrent. It was the perfect finale to the event; something so small yet so satisfying for all of us there. People moved away, wandering through the meadows for a final explore, admiring a view of the cathedral and the backs of the gardens in the Cathedral Close that we never normally get to see, walking through the soggy fields to look at the River Avon, seeing how the empty channels were now flowing with water, and sploshing our way through the once dry grass to get back to Rose Cottage. It was a lovely, gentle morning, helped of course by the weak February sunlight and blue sky, but one where you felt reassured that there are still pockets of traditional country life, and grateful for the wonderful volunteers who spend so much time and effort to keep this piece of rural, agricultural Britain alive and thriving, well into the 21st century. ROSE COTTAGE Rose Cottage is now the HQ of the Harnham Water Meadows Trust, and the ground floor is a visitors centre filled with information about the meadows - its history and how they work. It is not open for ad hoc visits, but keep an eye out on their Facebook page, Instagram account or signs near the Town Path for details of opening days throughout the year. You can also email them in advance to arrange a guided tour around the meadows for groups or families. Harnham Water Meadows website >>


    The Museum of Fine Arts in Nîmes is centrally located and is a great place to spend a few hours. Light and airy, peaceful and calm, it is home to an incredible Roman mosaic, works of fine art, sculptures and more. It is the perfect place for the Slow Traveller wishing to escape the the heat and liveliness of the streets outside. The Fine Arts Museum of Nîmes was built between 1902-1904 to hold the city’s art collection which had previously been held in the Maison Carrée but had outgrown its location. Renovated in 1987, the building may be modern but it is adorned with ornamental sculptures, stucco, and ironwork and looks neo-classical, with a light and elegant feel to the place. Set around a central 17m high atrium, which was designed specifically to house a mosaic, the museum has two floors and a grand, sweeping staircase which is flanked by statues sculpted by Henri Bouchard, a 20th century French sculptor. The mosaic really is the centrepiece of this huge room: at 50m² it eclipses the rest of the artwork hanging on the walls. The mosaic shows the wedding of Admetus, a character from Greek mythology who was king of the Pherae in Thessaly. Known as a kind and fair King, he married Alcestis after winning a contest set by her father to find a suitor for her. Admetus won, when he succeeded in yoking a lion and a boar to a chariot, with the help of Apollo. The wedding went ahead and is depicted in the centre panel of this mosaic. The central panel of the mosaic, which portrays Admetus with the boar and lion, came from Rome, but the rest was created in the local area. Other than the central panel, it is made from thousands of small mosaic tiles in just four colours; red, black, white and yellow. It would have been the centrepiece of a triclinium (dining room), and the guests would have been positioned so that they could admire the central panel while they ate lying on their couches. On the far left of the photograph above you can see the frieze, which portrays strong animals paired with weaker ones, such as a tiger with an antelope, a dog with a rabbit, and was where the slaves and dancing girls would have been during the feasts. The mosaic was found in 1883 in an area near the Porte August and the Carrée Maison, which was where the wealthy inhabitants of Roman Nîmes lived. A top panel was damaged and was replaced at the time with a plain mosaic saying where it had been found and who had completed the restoration works. This is not something that would happen these days with any archaeological finds, but the restoration does make the mosaic look very fresh and very suitable for a prime spot in this museum dedicated to the fine arts. The museum has approximately 3,600 pieces in its collection. The earliest dates from the end of the 14th century, a predella from an altar in Italy, thought to be by the artist Maître de Penna. There are Italian works of art from the 14th - 18th century, Flemish and Dutch from the 16th and 17th centuries, and French from the 17th to the 20th century. Many pieces come from The Gower Collection. Robert Gower was a 19th century English entrepreneur, who lived in France and spent much of his fortune on works of art. He was dismissed by his contemporaries as not being much of a connoisseur, and when he died, his will listed five British museums to which he wished to leave his collection, but none of them agreed to take it. So it went to the first French city on his list, Nîmes. In recent years, his collection has been re-evaluated, and it seems that Nimes are having the last laugh now, to have acquired such a collection. A highlight of the Dutch collection is a Reubens, Portrait of a Monk, painted around 1630. There are few Reubens in French collections, making this a rare treat. Another painting from their Nordic Collection, and one which really stands out as you enter the gallery, is that of the head of a bull, by Asselijn, another 17th century painter. Lifelike and full of character, it seems to appeal to people, as it is even mentioned in the Trip Advisor reviews of the museum. Old Woman with a Skull by Bellotti was painted in the late 1600s and can’t help but leave the viewer moved. This thin, heavily wrinkled old woman emerges from the dark background, her fingers lightly holding a faded flower and her arms resting on a human skull. The artist intended the woman to be a mixture of realistic portrait, religious significance and allegory, probably decrepitude. It is the reality of her that really stands out though, the depth of the wrinkles, her red rimmed eyes, the look of resignation and acceptance on her face. It is a wonderful piece and the photograph above really does not do it justice. The museum has sculptures, ceramics and glassware as well as fine art. These three busts show the fates of woman, from youth, through middle age to old age. The young and old wear theatrical masks on their chests, and with their ornamentation you can see that the artist is showing that they are trying to be something they are not, with the younger version trying to look older and the older trying to look younger. They are beautifully done and really eye catching. In the background behind the old bust, is Old Woman with a Skull as above, a clever juxtaposition by the curator. There are several paintings in the museum of ancient ruins. Preaching of an Apostle by the Italian artist Pannini, was painted in 1739 and stands out as the artist combines various Roman ruins, a familiar sight to the people of Nîmes. Pannini painted several works on the theme of preaching in ancient ruins, and in this one he combined the Temple of Vesta in Rome with an aqueduct like the Pont du Gard near Nîmes. On the left of the painting is a huge vase, sculpted in Greece in the 1st century AD which is known as the Medici Vase, and which can now be found in the Uffizi in Florence. On the left of this image is one of the museum's masterpieces, La Moissonneuse endormie, or Sleeping Reaper, by Jean François de Troy. This is a scene of country life, with a peasant girl on a sheaf with her bodice open and her skirt raised is one of the rare erotic works from this painter. The museum has works by more recent French artists. This brightly coloured painting by René Seyssaud was painted in the early 20th century. A prolific painter, he focused on the south of France where he lived, creating intensely vivid images of rural life. His style was a mixture of Expressionism and Fauvism, not fitting neatly into either category, but with a recurrent theme of capturing traditional life, with the mechanisation of the 20th century not appearing in any of his scenes of farm labourers. It catches the attention as soon as you walk in the room, providing a splash of colour against the deep blue wall. The museum is a fantastic place to spend some time. With its light and airy feel, with rooms that don't overwhelm as everything is so well spaced out, and plenty of resources to help you learn more about what you are looking at, it really should be on everyone's Nîmes visiting list. There are plenty of places to sit and absorb the pictures and listen to your audio guides, and staff are on hand to answer any questions. The Musée des Beaux Arts de Nîmes is included in the Nîmes City Pass. VISITING THE MUSÉE DES BEAUX ARTS Opening hours Every day except Monday: 10am - 6pm Closed on some public holidays Ticket Prices Adults €5 Concessions and children €3 Children aged 6-11 €2.50 Audio guides are available in several languages. Their website also has printable guides to help children and adults get the most from the paintings. Official Website >>


    One of the best preserved amphitheatres from the Roman world, the Arena of Nîmes was built in about 100 AD, just a few years after the Colosseum in Rome. Although the monument is currently undergoing a massive 25 year restoration programme that began in 2009, visitors are still able to tour the interior, attend events and explore this amazing building. Les Arènes de Nîmes is an incredible sight. A 2,000 year old building that is still in use today, it has undergone so many changes over the centuries that the fact it can still be used is testament to Roman construction and engineering. Situated in a large square in central Nîmes, the amphitheatre is an instantly recognisable landmark within the city. There may very well be other bigger Roman amphitheatres in the world to visit, but few are as well preserved as this one. HISTORY OF THE ROMAN AMPHITHEATRE IN NÎMES The amphitheatre was built in the 1st century AD, during the reign of Augustus, using stone from local quarries. It was located right up against the Roman walls, which passed just a few metres behind one side of it, the outline of which can be seen today marked on the pavement outside. If you visit in the evening, the lines of where the walls once lay are lit up in red, making it clear how close they were. The amphitheatre may be central to Nîmes today, but back then it was right on the outskirts, a late addition to the city. It was used to provide entertainment for the masses including gladiatorial combat, wild animal hunts and public executions. There were real life battles being fought at the borders of the Empire, but Nîmes was far removed from any of that, and it was a way of bringing controlled fighting to the people in the more central areas. At 133 m long, 101m wide and 21 m high, with two floors of 60 arches, the arena of the amphitheatre has a distinctive elliptical shape, which becomes more or less evident depending on where you are sitting in the stands. There is some disagreement over the reason behind the oval shape, but one theory is that as well as allowing the audience to see the action more clearly, it also allows the audience to see each other much more clearly, creating a sociable atmosphere, where people could see and be seen. People sat in a strict hierarchy according to their social ranking, with the patricians sitting at the bottom, right up to the non-citizens who sat at the top. Entrance to the games was free, usually paid for by one of the local dignitaries who wanted his name known and his praises sung. The amphitheatre could hold up to 24,000 people who sat spread out over 34 tiers of seats, which were divided into four separate areas called maeniana. With 60 arches on two tiers, many staircases, passageways and five circular galleries, which were accessed by stairways and passages called vomitories, the layout of the amphitheatre provided optimum circulation for the audience. There were no doors or barriers in the archways, unlike now, and the amphitheatre could be evacuated in 10 minutes, even when at full capacity. The shows included gladiator battles, wild animal fights and public executions. Gladiator fights had started in the 3rd century BC in Rome, due to the Roman belief that when people died, their souls were transported by human blood. When an important Roman citizen died in the early 3rd century BC, his family arranged for three pairs of slaves to fight during the funeral, so that blood was spilt. This developed over the years as other families copied the idea and it soon became a massive public spectacle. Gladiators trained in schools and many of them were professionals; they weren’t all slaves or prisoners. There was probably a gladiator school in Nîmes, as although the building hasn’t been found in excavations, gravestones of gladiators have been found in the area, implying there was one nearby. A fight often ended when a gladiator raised his hand to surrender, knowing that he was beaten. The person paying for the games would then decide whether they would be condemned, spared or retired: the well known gladiators were far more likely to be spared, protected by their reputations. Wild animal hunts also took place in the arena, with animals raised up through trapdoors in the ground of the sunken ring. The remains of an elevator system have been found in excavations. Excavations have also revealed that the underground features of the arena were a later addition. Although because the amphitheatre was built in an area with a high water table, the arena suffered repeated flooding and was later abandoned. In 399 AD, when the Roman Empire was already in decline, the emperor Honorious decreed that gladiator games must stop. It was around this time that the Western Roman Empire came under attack and started to fragment. The inhabitants of Nîmes strengthened the defences and took refuge within the arena. The arcades were blocked up all but transforming the amphitheatre into a fortress. By the 6th century, under the Visigoths, the arena had become a castle fortress ‘castrum arena’, even having a moat; it became an emergency shelter for people in times of attack. The arena was under siege several times, but managed to withstand them all. Houses and churches were built inside the walls. After the conquest of Nîmes by Charles Martel in the 8th century, it became the home of the Carolingian counts, the short lived Frankish Empire which ruled much of Europe. By the 12th century, it was the seat of the counts of Toulouse and became home to a chateau. They left in 1390 and the locals moved in. By the 18th century there was a village of 700 people living within its walls. It started the slow process of being restored back to its Roman appearance in 1768, when the city purchased all of the houses and started to demolish them. By 1812, the last of them had gone. The first Camargue bullfight took place in the arena in 1839 and the first Spanish bullfight was in 1853. Today, the amphitheatre is still a venue for many occasions such as bullfights, concerts and sporting events. RESTORATION OF LES ARÈNES DE NÎMES The first restoration work was carried out at the start of the 19th century, by civil engineer Stanislas-Victor Grangent. The first floor lintels were strengthened, staircases to the upper gallery were rebuilt and the ring was cleared. It was Grangent who discovered the basement underneath the ring, referred to as the cruciform room because of its shape. From 1939-45, work was done to strengthen lintels and to improve the pillars, arches and vaults at street level. From 1953-54 and from 1960-68, masonry was strengthened in the external façade. Since then, work has been done to improve the drainage of rainwater, a perpetual problem in limestone buildings. L: The chief engineer of the current restoration project pointing out the lead lining at the top of the exterior of the Arena. R: The restorers are using wooden arches just as the Romans did before them. The current restoration is an ambitious 54 million euro project which is expected to be completed around 2033. I was lucky enough to get the chance to climb up the exterior scaffolding with the chief engineer in charge of the current phase of the restoration, to see the work close up and to find out more about what they have learnt about the Roman construction. A detailed two year study was conducted before any work was started on the restoration, and it is thanks to this that they had comprehensive plan before they started. The survey showed that the arena had suffered from a seismic tremor around the 5th or 6th century AD and blocks had moved up to 60 cm. Blocks were attached with bow-tie joints, in which a wooden block in the shape of a bow tie was placed between two blocks, to keep them together. The restoration team have found many wooden blocks still in situ during their work. The restoration team have divided the Arena into 60 sections, based on the 60 archways, and were working on sections 53-57 during my visit. They discovered that this section has construction marks left on the stones, ones that had been erased on all the other sections but not here; the builders clearly hadn’t found the time to do it. This is probably because they had to complete the building in a hurry, maybe because an Emperor was visiting. The restoration team have also discovered that the amphitheatre is bulging outwards here, probably because of doing a rushed job, and that the original builders were trying to reinforce it as they built it. The Romans had started construction on sections 15 – 45, and this section shows a completely different style of construction in the details. It is probable that the architect and engineer were changed at this point and the subsequent construction was supervised by different people. Water damage is a critical problem with this limestone building, and it is imperative that water is not allowed to stay on the stones but that it must be able to drain away, to keep the stones going for as long as possible. Following the Venice Charter on restoration, the aim is to replace as few stones as possible, even if the stone is damaged. If possible, it will be filled with mortar, or glued together again if cracked. The stones that are jutting out and therefore liable to more serious water damage are being covered with a lead lining that cannot be seen from the ground, but that will protect them from water damage caused by rain. L: The latest phase of restoration is filling the holes where the wooden poles sat, with lead to stop water accumulating and destroying the stones. R: This section of the building was restored in an earlier phase of restoration, where they did not fill the holes with lead lining. As you can see, water has accumulated and is damaging the limestone. The seating tiers were also the roof of the amphitheatre passageways and staircases below. On the top edges of the building, pre-drilled stones were positioned to overhang on the outside, so that long poles could be put through them, and anchored in other holes on the wall. Canopies were then hung between the poles to create shade for the spectators. The restoration is a constant battle between authentic restoration, conservation and modern use as a concert venue. Compromises have to be made at every step of the project. For example, the Romans had stone barriers on the upper storey of arches which were flush with the walls. Now there are metal barriers in place, to ensure current health and safety regulations are met, but they are set midway so that they cannot be seen from the outside. The stone used by the Romans is Barutel stone, a local limestone which is a finely grained white or grey limestone. The restoration team are using the same quarry. The current vein being mined is grey rather than white, but they have decided to stick with the grey, rather than source an alternative white limestone, to keep it as authentic as possible. Mortar is being used to keep the blocks together where necessary, even though the Romans used dry joints. Small pipes are being put into the mortar which stick out, so that water which accumulates can drain away and not stay in the stones. VISITING THE ROMAN ARENA IN NÎMES OPENING HOURS January, February, November and December: 9.30am - 5pm March and October: 9am - 6pm April, May and September: 9am - 6.30pm June: 9am - 7pm July and August: 9am - 9pm TICKET PRICES Adults €10 Concessions €8 Official Website >> TIPS FOR VISITING ARÈNES DE NÎMES The Arena is open all year round, but do check your dates as it is often used for bullfights, concerts and other events. You can download an App beforehand which will take you on a 80 minute tour with full commentary. Guided tours take place in the summer months and are included in the entrance tickets. Self-guided audio tours are available when you buy your tickets and are in several languages. GUIDED TOURS OF THE ARENA AND ROMAN NÎMES


    The O2 may be a glitzy centre of excessive consumption filled with chain shops and restaurants, but the Slow Traveller can put themselves above all of that - literally - by walking over the outside of the dome, to enjoy the views over Greenwich and east London. The O2 Arena on the Greenwich Peninsula started life as the failed Millennium Dome project, a perpetual huge embarrassment to the Labour government who spent £700 million of tax payers money to build it. The projected visitor numbers failed to show up for the exhibitions on biology, science and spirituality, and they eventually sold it to a (Labour) donor for just £125 million. After several years of temporary uses and lots of political wrangling, the area was turned into an 'entertainment district', and all that remained of the original project was the actual dome itself. The dome, strictly speaking a large tent, is one of the largest in the world. The famous white canopy is 52 metres high and held up with various cranes and pillars. Inside it is a huge music venue where the biggest names perform, a cinema, bowling, a trampoline park, a football entertainment venue, a Mamma Mia! party venue and countless big name restaurants and big name shops. The interior is all shiny, glitzy chrome, bright lights and endless colours. It is not a place for those who are seeking peace, the natural world, open skies or views. It is however possible to do 'Up at the O2' - a 'climb' up and over the roof, where you get to spend some time standing on the top to admire the views, before descending back down to earth. From up there you can see far into the distance - over the Thames, Greenwich, the Isle of Dogs, the city skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and more. The noise at ground level is subdued, the sky seems vast, the industrial wasteland around you retreats into the background. It is a far pleasanter way to experience this part of London than standing in a giant shopping mall with adverts flashing in your face. You book your tickets online - see link below. You pay more for evening or sunset climbs. I thought I was quite canny in booking our climb to be the last of the day time climbs - so we still got some sunset but for a day time price. Once your arrive on site to book in, you can also pre-order a drink to have at the top of the dome, where you get to spend about 20 minutes wandering around the flat bit at the top to admire the views. The prices are quite high for just small bottles and cans of drink, but there is a fridge up there so at least they are chilled, and you aren't allowed to carry any with you for safety reasons. You start out in the briefing room where you watch a video with the rules of the climb, then go into a room where you deposit your extraneous possessions. You are given shoes if required, a harness and a gilet style jacket, which has a pocket for your phone, if you want it. (Clothing guidelines are here). Then its time to attach yourself to the safety wire and begin the ascent. It is not particularly difficult or terrifying, although there were a couple of people on our climb who seemed nervous and needed some support. The guide who escorts you can walk up and down the line giving advice and encouragement as required; our guide was really cheery, positive and friendly, and got us all to the top with minimal problems. You walk on a walkway suspended over the dome, rather than on the dome itself. The walkway is ridged for extra grip and there are handrails, as well as the safety rail. Once you are at the top you can unhook yourself from the safety wire and wander around. The guide issues any ordered drinks from the fridge and then gives a little talk about what you can see around you. There is no obligation to listen, and in fact a couple went off with their champagne for a romantic moment, but the rest of us stayed to enjoy the talk and admire the views. After that we could wander around - you are allowed to get your phones out once you are at the top, and there were lots of selfies and landscape photos. The views are interesting and there is a certain thrill about being so high up at the top of the dome, looking down on everyone below. You can see quite far away depending on the time of day and if the weather is obliging. The planes fly directly over your head, the people below seem quite small and insignificant, yet they provide a fascinating living scene for you to watch. We particularly enjoyed watching the people eating suspended from a crane with London in the Sky, which looks both fun and dangerous. After about 20 minutes or so, it is time to get back in the line, clip yourself on to the safety wire and head back down the other side. This is a little more daunting, as the roof seems to fall away from you as you descend, and particularly towards the end of the descent it does get a little steeper and harder to manage. That being said, we all succeeded without any drama, and were soon back on terra firma. Then its just a case of handing back your equipment, collecting your stuff and having a look at the professional photos which were taken of you on the climb, with the chance to buy them of course. The whole experience takes about 90 minutes and is a thoroughly unique and enjoyable way to explore this part of London. Up at the O2 Book your tickets here with Get Your Guide, who offer free cancellation whereby you can cancel up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund.


    The tiny village of Minstead is one of the least spoilt villages of the New Forest, complete with a fascinating church, the burial place of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, its own stocks, thatched cottages, a good pub and excellent walks nearby. Minstead is a tiny village with a population of 600, about two miles north of Lyndhurst in the centre of the New Forest. Surrounded by woodland, heath, rivers and streams, it is a pretty place for a walk. Minstead is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 but there is evidence of occupation here from prehistoric times. Its greatest attraction is the Church of All Saints because its features are unique – and although it is only tiny both the exterior and interior are well worth a detailed look. All Saints Church, Minstead The chancel and nave, which are of stone, date from the 13th century but the rest of the building, in red brick, is of 18th-century or later date, including the tower. The exterior is unusual because, at first glance, the nave has windows which seem to be almost cottage-like – and this indicates immediately that you have a church with a wonderfully idiosyncratic architectural and furnishing history across the centuries. Unlike many other churches, it wasn't cleaned up and 'improved' by the Victorians, so it remains an unusual, slightly ramshackle building, full of personality. Crossing over the 800 year old stone step in the north porch your eye is immediately caught by the 17th century three-decker oak pulpit – a very rare remaining example of this design. The lowest deck was used by the Parish Clerk, responsible for saying the “Amens”. The middle level was used for the reading of the Scriptures and the top level for the Preaching of the Sermon. L: The font and three-tier pulpit Photograph © Minstead Village R: The interior Photograph © National Churches Trust Below the pulpit lies the oldest stone in the building – the 12th century font. A lovely story here – in 1893 Henry James Abbott, the gardener, was digging in the Rector’s garden when his spade struck the buried font. He promptly wheeled it up to the church in his wheelbarrow where it has remained ever since. Photograph © Cornish Churches Behind you are two galleries, with interesting benefaction boards, added to by the current parishioners at the millennium. The main gallery built in the 16th century with a late 18th century addition, was for the church minstrels to play their instruments. The second, added above the first in 1818, was for the children of the parish. Photograph © National Churches Trust Keep exploring and you will find two private pews – one was for the occupants of Castle Malwood – complete with its own door and a fireplace for the lucky occupants – the other, now housing the organ, was for Minstead Lodge. The extra long hat pegs you see were for the tall stovepipe hats fashionable in the 17th century. The churchyard also has compelling gravestones. Just off the main path is one to Mr. White – which includes a cut-out space where the word “faithful” was initially carved before “husband”. The story goes that Mrs. White later heard the village gossip about her husband – so she left the memorial intact but determinedly erased the apparently false adjective! The most famous grave, beneath an oak tree on the south side of the churchyard, is that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whose family retreat was just outside the Minstead parish boundary. Conan Doyle was born and bred in Edinburgh, but discovered the sleepy village of Minstead while researching his book The White Company where the hero, Alleyne Edricson, ends up as landlord of Minstead. Conan Doyle bought a holiday home near the village - Bignell Wood, where he held seances, due to his beliefs in spiritualism. He died in 1930 and was buried, standing up, in the rose garden of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex. When the house was sold in 1955, he was reburied in Minstead, the then vicar agreeing that, despite Conan Doyle’s unChristian interest in spiritualism, he could be buried in sacred ground – but only at the far limits of the churchyard. The gravestone usually has Sherlock Holmes’ favourite pipe propped up against it, and when I visited had a magnifying glass too. Steel True, Blade Straight, Arthur Conan Doyle, Knight, Patriot, Physician, and Man of Letters, 1859 to 1930. From the church there is an easy walk of under 2 miles to Furzey Gardens – gardens which merge imperceptibly into the surrounding forest and woods. It is particularly spectacular in late spring when the azaleas and rhododendrons have stunning colours. The area is also popular with children who can look for “fairy doors” in the many tree trunks and also explore inside a 400 year old New Forest cottage. Beyond Furzey Gardens are many walks within the Forest itself. You could also walk from Minstead to the Rufus Stone, about one and half miles away. The Village Green of Minstead The remaining attractions of the village are clustered around the village green - a pub, community shop, war memorial and stocks. The village stocks are on the green in front of the pub. These were made in 2002 for the Queen's Jubilee, a replica of those which were there in 1804. The inn sign shows the “trusty servant” – a pig with padlocked snout so that he cannot reveal his master’s secrets and stag’s feet so that he can run errands quickly. There is some unexplained connection here with Winchester College as this picture is copied from there and has the College motto “manners makyth man” in the corner. There is a small community shop next to the pub which sells overpriced coffee and cake. Bear in mind that even months after the legal requirement for masks has ended and shops across the country no longer expect them, the staff will ask you to leave if you do not have a mask on you. There are other shops in the area which will be grateful for your money, and the pub instead is very welcoming if you need refreshments. Visiting Minstead There are buses from Lymington, Lyndhurst and Cadnam Limited free parking in the pub carpark but usually spaces available around the village green. Postcode of Trusty Servant SO43 7FY Loos and refreshment at the Trusty Servant

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