31. Catching Up – A Miscellany…


25th October 2010. For reasons that are not here relevant, the contributions to this series have been very sparse & erratic over the last 2 years. But a number of images have been saved, that I would like to share with you. I have been sorting out – and deleting – large numbers of photographs: those that are out of focus; the sun at the wrong angle; shots inferior to others &c. At one time, we were supposed to regularly ‘spring clean’ our PCs so that we would not clutter up the hard drive with obsolete files. But these days, hard drives are so big that it hardly matters! But we did so anyway. A surprising number of Gigabytes were deleted. (Avi camcorder files that have been forgotten about hog a lot of space.) Probably none of the topics involved would justify a web-page of their own; but together might make an interesting kaleidoscope, as it were. Sometimes there is just one photo. on that topic; sometimes several. They are arranged more or less in chronological order.


(a) Kings Norton Canal Junction.



2nd January 2009. These were taken quite a while ago! It was damp & cold day, so we didn’t stay long. This is the well-known guillotine stop-lock on the Stratford branch. Kings Norton Junction is of course on the Birmingham to Worcester canal, where this branch to Stratford on Avon was later built. All canals are equipped with these at certain points, so that the various branches can be isolated for work to be done – or perhaps even to prevent loss of water if a catastrophic breach or collapse of an embankment occurs.



Here we are looking back to the main B’ham (to the right) & Worcester (to the left) canal with its signpost and the impressive Toll House. This canal was completed about 1815. (Hadfield, ‘The Canals of the West Midlands’, David & Charles. No date in my copy.) I am not a canal historian – merely a dillentante of canals – in the original sense of the word, i.e. someone who takes delight in things without knowing much about them! Obviously these canals were built over many years, and in sections which came into use gradually.



Another shot of the Toll House (or whatever it’s called), with Kings Norton Church in the background. St. Nicolas’ church is a major landmark, its steeple being visible for miles around. Kings Norton, which still has its village green, with ancient buildings nearby, was only taken over Birmingham in 1911.



Here is a view towards Birmingham. As I remarked, it was a dull, cold, clammy day with few folks abroad; the broken ice on the canal attests to that. It was rather a day when people stayed at home by their fire-sides! But I have always been rather perverse about those things, and am equally likely to go out in weather such as this, as in the balmy Summer. When they were quite young, I sometimes used to take my 2 kids out on Sunday mornings in Winter, saying ‘we have to work up an appetite for Sunday dinner.’ They would protest vigorously that it was too cold and horrid to go out – but it gradually became almost a ritual. And we never went out for very long, anyway: only an hour or so at the very most. And when we returned, there was the delicious smell of the roast beef slowly cooking in the oven. We were all ravenous, of course, and much store was always set by the success (or otherwise) of the Yorkshire puddings!



Looking down in the direction of Worcester. Both this Worcester canal and the Stratford canal pass through tunnels not far to the south of this junction. They have to pass through the range of hills which constitute the Severn-Trent watershed, which runs just south of Birmingham. Being early tunnels, neither has a towpath. The boats were ‘legged’ through, and the horses (or donkeys sometimes) were taken up & over the top.



A much ‘doctored’ shot of the signpost. Worcester: 24½ miles, 58 locks; Stratford: 25½ miles, 55 locks; Warwick 20½ miles, 40 locks. Virtually all of them (or maybe indeed all, I don’t know) go downhill. Birmingham is on a plateau. Accordingly, the arm pointing to Birmingham, 5½ miles away, has no locks. And indeed you may tranquilly proceed through Birmingham as far as Wolverhampton – probably nearly 20 miles from this spot, as the canal goes, without a single lock. That’s probably because the earliest canal builders hated locks; nasty, expensive things: and always a bother to find water for them on the Birmingham plateau! So they tried to make ‘contour canals’ which followed the same level, but usually by a roundabout route.



Lastly, the view under the bridge, looking towards Birmingham. By now we were feeling chilled, and though refreshed by the clean, cold air, were becoming very hungry. Alas, we didn’t have any roast beef waiting for us. Indeed, I have not cooked roast beef for many years. But what a splendid idea. I really must get a modest joint for this coming Sunday – not to mention a tray for Yorkshire puddings!


(b) An unexpected Peacock butterfly.



9th April 2010. A welcome visitor to the garden today, settling on a small clump of heather – practically the only nectar-bearing plant in flower at that time. The camera was not handy, and I almost didn’t bother getting it, as the Peacock would probably have gone by the time I came back. But suddenly optimism prevailed: we dashed upstairs, grabbed the camera, and so you see above one of the welcome signs that Spring is truly established.


(c) Wightwick Manor



7th May 2010. We joined the National Trust, in order to visit some of the incredible range of historic sites, houses and other properties they administer for the good of the nation, and of its population. Located on the Bridgnorth road, a few miles from my home town of Wolverhampton, it must be one of the most recent buildings in the National Trust, for it was only built circa 1887 and extended a few years later. There is an extensive outcrop of sandstone that runs across this part of the Midlands, and the shot above, which runs up one side of the Wightwick Manor site, is a bit of it. (More at Kinver, below…)



Essentially, this magnificent house (and its grounds) is a late 19th century re-creation of something hundreds of years older, though it occupies the site of a genuine ancient manor house, parts of which were sympathetically preserved. It was built by Theodore Mander, a prosperous paint manufacturer who became, almost inevitably, an important person in politics; but who alas, died only in middle age.



It is ornamented within by many treasures…  But find out much more at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-wightwickmanor . This house has a remarkable atmosphere: warm, friendly, welcoming, relaxed. I dare say much of this is due to the dedicated volunteers who conduct us around it and so carefully explain & answer our questions; but I also think that this really is a ‘good spirit’ place in its own right!


(d) Coughton Court.



16th May 2010. The courtyard of Coughton Court – pronounced ‘Coten’, or ‘Coton’ – a National Trust property between Birmingham and Evesham. We have started to visit some of these lately as our leisure time has, thankfully, increased.



This is the entrance and the range of buildings on the right. A visit to http://www.coughtoncourt.co.uk will tell you all you need to know about this historic house. Suffice it to say that it has been the ancestral home of the Throckmorton family for 600 years! As they were Roman Catholics, the family underwent many persecutions during and after the Reformation.



It was not permitted to take photographs inside National Trust properties; but this year, as an experiment, it has been allowed, but not using flash. ‘Good behaviour’ on the part of photographers may allow the privilege to remain in place. Above you see a precious relic: a shift, reputed to be that worn by Mary, Queen of Scots, at her execution, on 8th February 1587. The date embroidered looks more like 13th Feb. I must emphasise that flash photography is NOT permitted inside National trust properties, and though this may a look like a flash photo., it isn’t. I took many exposures of this ancient, historic, sad and thought-provoking garment, which is kept in a glass case in a shady place to protect it from light, lest it fade. The shot above had the best focus, and was heavily adjusted in Photoshop, so that you can read the embroidered lettering. I have assumed that I can put the photo. here; if the publication on the web of photos. taken inside National Trust properties is not allowed, then it will immediately be removed; honest!


(e) Kinver



5th August 2010. Here is another bit of the sandstone escarpment – or whatever it is – referred to in (c) above. It’s part of ‘Kinver Edge’, which contains the famous ‘rock houses’ – actually excavated in the sandstone. This is another National Trust property; for more information see: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-kinveredgerockhouses. The weather was unfavourable for August; it was windy and none too warm. Still, we plodded slowly up the hill until we came out onto the top.



Here, the idyllic sight of trees, fields, hedgerows &c., brought the simple happiness that what we see out there (however much it may have been modified by Man (and I use that term in it its very widest sense)), nevertheless represents what some of us call Reality. By contrast, the formulaic scenes of death and destruction portrayed in ‘blockbuster movies’ & so on, represent, equally in their turn, something else. A something extremely unprepossessing – at least to me. Still, perhaps both are somehow necessary? Might not the gentle spirit, in time, and imperceptibly, become effete, if it lacks the irritation of the grain of sand in the shell? H’mm. Quite possibly the turning of an irritating grain of sand into a pearl is a long-term undertaking. I hope we have the time to do it.



Off at a complete tangent, a buddleia outside the Tea Room was attracting many butterflies. But it was a windy day, and most shots were unsuccessful. However, a very common butterfly, the Small White, Pieris rapae, which has so far eluded our inept and threadbare camera, was kind enough to settle for some time on a sheltered blossom. It was a female, this diagnosed from the two spots on its forewing; the male has only one, and that less prominent.


(f) The Roman Villa at Chedworth.



20th August 2010. En route to somewhere, we called in at Chedworth Roman Villa on a dull and drizzly day. This is the spring, the Nymphaeum as they call it. Although the flow seems modest, it never dries up. The water comes in from the top left, along the original Roman stone ducting. Many ‘coins in the fountain’!



Most of the walls are from the Roman period, but have been capped in order to prevent erosion by rain & frost. This view looks down the valley. The building on the right – not Roman! – was originally a hunting lodge, and became the residence of the warden. The site was discovered in 1864. It is now a museum of finds from the site. The structure at the left protects floor mosaics.




At this time, some of the mosaics are being inspected – I think they were recorded long ago, and covered up to protect them. After some conservation, I expect they will again be covered up. They are long & narrow, so probably were the floor of an important corridor in the house?



Another shot of Roman walls, roofed to protect them. All of this was originally below ground level, of course, after being abandoned for many centuries. The site was developed from the early second century to the fourth century. (Wikipedia).



A view into one of the main rooms, with a good deal of its mosaic floor still in place. Presumably the large channels at the back are part of the under-floor central heating the Romans – or at least their Romanised British clients – used. It must have been excellent to have a nice warm floor to walk about on in winter! I think this is the room that had the four seasons depicted – up at that damaged far end.




This is the best-known of them: the spirit of winter. One notable feature is the woollen cloak with hood. The spirit has a hare in his right hand, and a tree branch in his left. Food and warmth were especially important in these northern reaches of the Roman Empire!




Page completed 30th October 2010. Winter is coming!