A favourite quote and a way by which to approach life.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Over and under

My holiday to Somerset is over and I'm back home, but for last week this little cottage was my home.

It has to be said that W and I had a fantastic time away and did a heck of a lot. I had been hoping to blog during the course of the holiday to let you know what we were up to, but we were so busy that I didn't have time, so I'm going to do a series of retrospective posts, starting with our trips to Cheddar Gorge, Cheddar caves, and Wookey Hole. We didn't go to Cheddar and Wookey on the same day, but it seems appropriate to put them in the same post.

The first part of our trip to Cheddar was a bus tour up the road that ran through the middle of the gorge. We'd actually just driven down this road so had seen some of its splendour already, but as I'd been driving and having to negotiate some very tight blind corners it was good to be able to look around freely without risk of causing an accident. Here are a couple of photos of the gorge from the bus tour.

We then made our way to the caves, which are as spectacular as the gorge (even if some of the audio guide is a bit naff and touristy at times) with some amazing stalactites and stalagmites. This first photo from inside the caves is a view up the roof of the cave and it's a huge funnel-like hole that yawns at you from above.

And then you come across a cage of Cheddar cheese ripening in the cave! Although it's not strong, you can smell it as you approach the area.

This one is an amazing cathedral of stalactites dripping down off the wall and must have taken many, many thousands of years to form. Quite stunning.

And this is one of my favourite photos from inside the caves. I love the amazing structures of the stalactites and stalagmites, and also their perfect reflections in the water. I also like the subtle colours and it's wonderland/fantasy world feel.

More stalactites ...
There are two main sets of caves at Cheddar - Gough's Cave and Cox's Cave. I can't clearly remember which of the above photos are taken in which cave, but they are both spectacular ... until suddenly, in Cox's Cave, you are walking down a narrow set of rocky stairs, having seen some wonderful structures of nature, and you come across this ...

It has to be the most rapid change in mood of a place I've come across for a very long time. No longer are you wandering the caves in awe of God's creation and imagination; suddenly you're distracted by a whole Lord of the Rings theme going on. It's quite fun, but it comes upon you so unexpectedly and I burst into fits of laughter the moment I saw the disembodied head with the glowing tiara, initially forgetting that W couldn't see what I was seeing as she was behind me on the stairs. When it came into her line of sight she too burst into laughter, which in turn made the German blokes behind her begin to giggle. The rest of Cox's cave is taken over by the LOTR theme and here are just a few of the photos I took.

At the end of our exploration of the caves, and the weird LOTR experience, we decided that we really ought to try to see the gorge from above. This is no easy task for two brittle asthmatics, one with the added complication of anaemia (me), and the other (W) with the added complication of arthritis, but we're a stubborn and determined pair so we headed off up the steps that take you up the first part of the cliff and then headed on up from there ... slowly ... very slowly ... very, very slowly at times. It was worth it though ...

After our long (and possibly slightly foolish) hike along the gorge walk we had a much easier descent. It was still down a fairly rugged path, but it was downhill and that makes a lot of difference when it comes to breathing :o) We both managed to avoid any breathing crises during the walk though, which I think we deserve medals for :o)
We came out of the woods at the bottom of the gorge walk onto the road and had to amble our way along this to get back to the car near the tourist part of Cheddar - by the caves' entrances and gorge walk steps. It was a longer road walk than I'd anticipated, but it wasn't arduous, the temperature was pleasant enough (it'd been a beautiful, sunny day), and we came across some wild goats that we watched by the roadside for a while.

I really like this next photo of one of the goats ambling its way through the roadside trees. The sunlight just makes it for me.

And just after seeing the wild goats I saw something out of the corner of my eye do a little scurry on the ground to my right. I turned and saw this little chap.

We'd been told by the bus tour guide that there are water voles in the area so at first we thought that maybe this might be one of them (neither W or I are great at wildlife identification), but after a bit of internet research I rather think that this might be a much more common Long-tailed mouse/Wood mouse. Regardless of it's rarity we enjoyed it and it didn't seem to be particularly nervous of us either - it ran around us for ages, played with a leaf that was next to me and scurried over the toes of my walking boots. Eventually it nipped off towards the grass, but not for long and only after we'd been watching it and taking photos of it for a good ten minutes or so. I don't suppose any of you are able to confirm our identification of it as a Long-tailed mouse/Wood mouse, or suggest what else it might have been, are you?

That was about it for our excursion to Cheddar, so next is a little bit on our trip to Wookey Hole, which was actually the following day. Wookey Hole is touristy in a different way to Cheddar - more theme park-y. However, rather than an audio guide that is at times slightly irksome (as is the case at Cheddar), the tour of the caves at Wookey is guided by a person - a man. During the tour he tells the legend of the Wookey Hole Witch and how she is said to have been turned to stone by the incantations of a priest and his splashing her with holy water. The photo below is of the rock that is said to be the witch turned to stone.

The caves at Wookey are enormous and have incredibly deep rivers running through them. Some of the rivers look to be only a couple of feet deep, but this is an illusion given by the clarity and purity of the water and the lack of surface movement as there's no wind. In most places the rivers are actually several meters deep! You can't tell the depth of the river in the photo below, or see the illusion of its shallowness, but you can get some idea of the scale of the place by the rowing boat ... and this wasn't the biggest opening in the caves by any means.

Here is a much bigger cavern. This was taken whilst standing on a bridge that must only have been about a third of the way up the height of the cave. The place seemed to go on forever, and it was difficult to comprehend how deep into the land we must have been.

The caves were amazingly spectacular ... awe-inspiring ... magnificent. And then you step outside and come face to face with this ...

It's a bit of a shock to the system to go from the wonders of nature hidden deep in the Earth to an over-sized, plastic gorilla. Get into the spirit of it and it's okay, but it does feel quite random. However, W and I did get into the spirit of it and I took several more photos of what was to come, and it's very different from the beauty of the caves.
This guy might only be plastic (or something else, but definitely not real), but he's still a bit scary, don't you think? Kind of wonderful in his way ... perhaps ... maybe ...

And then you come across this fellow and his mates. They stare at you from around the gardens, lurking in the bushes, although they have a hard time hiding seeing as they're so big and some of them are painted quite gaudy colours. Still, they're fun and we were there to have fun so we got on with enjoying ourselves and got into the spirit of it.

So that was our jaunt to Cheddar and our trip to Wookey Hole. Both were great fun and we saw some amazing works of nature, which I've tried to give you a flavour of, but it's difficult to do so in such a limited space and only a few photos. For a true impression you really need to go there and experience it, but then I guess that's the case for most things in life.
I'll be back soon with another instalment of our Somerset Sojourn.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

We've arrived

W and I have arrived in Somerset after a fairly easy journey yesterday. It was long – about 7 hours all together – but it didn’t seem that long because of the company, although the traffic was pretty heavy most of the way.

The sat nav did a wonderful job of getting us here, except for the last little bit where it took us to the wrong house, but the woman there was friendly, helpful, and directed us to the manor house. Our cottage is attached to the manor house, which has a brook that serves as a moat. It’s very, very lovely here and ever so peaceful. When I woke up this morning I lay in bed for a while listening to the sound of nothing but a crow :o)

The cottage and the manor are both very old, with parts of the manor house dating back to Norman times! Obviously we don’t get to see inside the manor as it’s lived in, but we are right next door (actually, we’re attached to it), and the cottage is full of character – big, old beams, a slopey floor upstairs, a wood-burning stove in a huge, stone fireplace, walls that are 2-3 feet thick, and a twisty little staircase ... which I fell down last night and banged my back really hard. It winded me completely so for a moment I wasn’t able to breathe, and apparently I went completely white, but in the end I was fine; just sore. I feel a bit battered today, but nothing that’s going to spoil my time here.

So today is a lazy day. We’ve had a looooong lie in, and now we’re lounging in the living room. In fact W is still in her pjs even though it’s almost 1:30pm :o) We’re planning on going for a look around Frome sometime this afternoon and then go to one of the local churches this evening. W is a Baptist where as I’m Church of England. It doesn’t really matter as it’s the same God, but the worship is different so what we’re used to is different. We were talking about it last night and trying to decide what to do about going to church – we both wanted to go to a church today – and in the end I came up with a plan: we could go to the Baptist church this evening, but go to evensong at Wells cathedral when we head off there later in the week. Anyway, it’d be crazy to go to Wells cathedral and not go to evensong.

Well, W has gone off to get dressed so I’ll make steps to get ready for going out. It looks like a lovely day out there so we’d better make some use of it.

Catch you later.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Off again

Next Saturday I'm off on holiday again, this time for a week in Somerset with W. We've rented a cottage in Rodden, near Frome. It's attached to a moated manor house, looks lovely, and because it's out of season then it's just within our budget :o) I've been to Somerset before, but not this part of it, and I'm really looking forward to exploring the area. We have a whole host of things planned, and I'm not entirely sure how we're going to fit it all into a week, but I'm sure we will. Here's a quick run down of some of the places we're planning on going to, some of which are already booked:

Longleat. I wasn't originally planning on taking the car here, because of the risk of it being wrecked by the monkeys. Instead we were going to arrive by public transport so that we could take the safari bus, but it seems that the poor monkeys have some kind of infection that they're not supposed to be able to get as their an isolated community, so the monkey section is closed. I think it's less likely that a lion or giraffe is going to come and sit on the car and pull it apart.

Cheddar Gorge. Apparently I went here as a very young child, but I don't remember it at all and I've wanted to go for years. It's actually part of my reason for suggesting to W that we go to Somerset.

Wookey Hole. I'm not entirely sure what to expect at Wookey Hole. I think it's something like Cheddar Gorge, but a bit kind of theme parky. We'll see. There's some kind of myth about witches and they have people dressed up as witches. They recently employed someone as a new witch, who is allegedly being paid £50 000 a year!!!!!!

Wells Cathedral. I've heard wonderful things about Wells Cathedral and wanted to see its wonders for myself for quite sometime, so I'm looking forward to this. It might be a bit of way to drive there from Frome - I'm not very sure - but it doesn't matter.

Stourhead. This is a National Trust property that is said to have beautiful gardens. I guess whether or not we get there depends somewhat on the weather, but it'd be nice to go if we can, and it's one of the places that's suggested on the cottage website.

Bath and the Thermae Spa. I went to Bath in 2006 and loved it - it's beautiful and full of history. The Roman Baths are fantastic and the abbey is lovely. The thermae spa is right next to both of these and you can bath in the naturally hot spring water on the roof top with the abbey towering above you on one side, the stone-carved Roman soldiers at the Roman baths on another, and views of the rolling countryside of the Chew Valley on another. There's a lot to see and do in Bath if you want to, and during the time that we're in the region Bath also have the Children's Literature Festival running, which is just perfect timing for my new course so we'll probably take a look at that.

Stonehenge. This is another place I went to in 2006, but definitely worth a second visit. It was smaller than I'd expected, but had such an enigmatic atmosphere. It was fascinating and I'm looking forward to going again. I didn't explore any of the surrounding country and the other stone circles in the area so maybe W and I will while we're there ... if it's not too cold and wet (I'm desperately hoping for good weather while we're away).

It's going to be quite a packed week, and if we're going to get it all done then we'll have to do more than one thing some days. I hope we have some time to relax and enjoy the cottage too amongst all the activity and don't come back exhausted and in need of a holiday ;o) It should be great fun though and I'm really looking forward to it. We go on Saturday. It's quite a drive from here and I'm expecting it to take at least 6 hours, but I've put W onto my car insurance for the week so that we can share the driving if need be. Having said that, I do enjoy driving.

Right then, I'd better sign off for now and make my way to the gym for some more training for my gym marathon at the end of next month. The training's going pretty well, but I'm definitely having to pace myself so that I don't get too exhausted or push myself too far too quickly and end up in hospital. That would be counterproductive, wouldn't it?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Case concluded

I'm most disappointed. I'm not going to have my day in court after all :o( I received a letter on Friday from the Criminal Justice System Prosecution Team telling me that the police caught up with the man who attempted to thieve my holey watering can, and at his second hearing he pleaded guilty. I guess it's about time that something sensible happened in this most ridiculous affair, but it's disappointing all the same that I'm not going to be able to watch the magistrate try to keep a straight face during a full trial. Now that the defendant has been found guilty (on account of finally pleading guilty) I suppose it's alright for me to name him here ... So, for the 'following charges:

1. Theft
2. Failing to surrender to custody at appointed time

The John Francis Joseph O'Donnell [I bet he's Irish Catholic!] was sentenced as follows:

1. Ordered to pay the court a fine of £90
2. Ordered to pay the court a fine of £30'

I expect that £120 is probably quite a lot of money for this bloke, seeing as he's a scrap metal merchant ... who's so desperate for cash that he tried to nick my aluminium watering can with holes in the bottom. It must have a scrap value of about 10p!

I must just share with you the last paragraph of this letter I have from the CJS:
'I would like to thank you for your assistance as a witness in this case. Your evidence was very important in bringing this case to justice and your contribution is greatly appreciated.'

This makes me laugh so much. I didn't see anything! I didn't hear anything! I was asleep at the time! I only knew about the attempted theft because of a phone call from my neighbour who *did* actually see it happen! The crucial bit must have been that I looked out of the window after being informed of the crime and sure enough, there was a distinct lack of holey watering can in the spot that it should've been. This must have been vital information and deeply significant in the successful outcome of the prosecution. What it is to be a helpful member of society in police investigations ;oP

Oh yes, the letter also informs me that I can apply to the Criminal Injusries Compensation Scheme for the psychological injury this crime has caused me, and that if I wish I can also take 'the person responsible' to the civil courts. You know what, I think I might just not bother with that. It's not stoicism. It's not the Great British stiff upper lip. It's not that I'm too traumatised to be able to deal with such things. No, it's because it's so bloody ridiculous! ;o)

I'm still disappointed not to have to go to court though.