East Sussex: excursions and diversions, part 1 – Hastings

 

Back in 2012 my partner and I took a week’s touring holiday to South East England; it was partly for me to revisit places I’d known as a child when my grandparents lived in Bexhill-on-Sea, and that I’d not seen since, but also out of curiosity – we felt it was somewhere no longer familiar and probably worth exploring. We were pleasantly surprised by all sorts of things; I wrote about these, along with some other musings on South East England, in this post.

Through an odd turn of fate we’ve become more familiar with one part of this area when we began to visit our elder son who’d moved from Bristol in 2018 to the High Weald near Battle with his partner; her family have connections with this part of Sussex and it’s only a few miles to Bexhill where my grandparents lived. It’s an extraordinarily varied landscape with many contrasts – undulating hills and steep cliffs, marshes and dense, stream-filled woodlands (once the heart of a huge iron working industry in the 17thC that dates even further back to pre-Roman times), and seaside Continue reading

East Sussex: excursions and diversions, part 2, St Leonards-on-Sea

The charming St Leonards Warrior Square station, built in 1851

If you continue westwards from Hastings pier (see previous post) along the seafront, once you reach Warrior Square you will have arrived at the relative newcomer of a town, St Leonards. Warrior Square is unmissable – it’s an expansive rectangular park surrounded by very large 19thC seaside apartment houses, but the square is misleadingly-named. It’s less a memorial to fighters than smugglers; “the name Warrior is most likely a corruption of ‘Warehouse’ – smugglers being known to secrete goods in the vicinity”. St Leonards was originally conceived as part of a planned seaside resort in the mid 1820s – “a place of elegant houses designed for the well-off” Continue reading

East Sussex, excursions and diversions, part 3, Bexhill

Bexhill on Sea in the 1950s, unused postcard, photo from flickr by Phil Sellens,
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

Four miles or so further west along the coast from St Leonards (see post here) is the odd (my personal perception!) town of Bexhill-on-Sea. I spent several summer holidays there in the mid 1950s staying with my slightly melancholy grandparents who’d moved to a utilitarian bungalow when my Grandfather retired. There were some recurring pleasures to our stays but even as a child the town seemed a bit dull and full of old people! I have only recently found out that comedian Spike Milligan (treasured by my family for his absurdist antics in the Goon Show) was Continue reading

Glastonbury Encounters – Shops, Shoes, and Sheep

Glastonbury Tor in the mist from the Mendip hills

Losing a sheepskin mitten, the imminent arrival at the start of February of St Brigid’s Day / the Celtic Festival of Imbolc / Candlemass , and rediscovering some photos from the 70s and 80s are the seemingly random reasons behind writing this linked set of posts about Glastonbury and the surrounding area. The process has been reinforced by the inability to travel beyond my “local area” (splendid though it is) and my constant impulse to put words and images together, especially in all this suspended time and wearying weather.

So these factors have propelled me back Continue reading

Glastonbury Encounters – “England’s mountain(s) green”

35mm film contact strip of my first visit to Glastonbury Tor

Going up the Tor

I’ve climbed Glastonbury Tor a fair few times over the decades, either as an ad hoc detour on the journey to or from my folks who lived not far from there (see this post), or as an outing from Bristol with family and friends, the weather often changing from sunshine on the climb up to showers or freezing cold winds that generated much complaint from the kids, but the vistas and exhilarating atmosphere at the summit usually won the day. The contact strip in the photo above is possibly from my first visit to Glastonbury in 1975. Continue reading

Glastonbury Encounters – Springs and Wells

On the way back to the car after our Glastonbury Tor climb (previous post) we passed the entrance to the Chalice Well Gardens, source of the Red Spring where Joseph of Arimathea is said to have placed the chalice of the Last Supper that also collected the drops of Christ’s blood at the crucifixion – the Holy Grail. I’d taken some German dowsers there in 1988 who were fascinated by the iron oxide-rich water and the powerful responses from their dowsing implements. It’s a lovely space, not just for the well and the water that threads through the site, but for the plants, the Continue reading

Fortunes, fruit and fevers … biography of an orchard, part 1

 Pill Village

The village of Pill, my home in North Somerset, clusters (once attractively I hear) around a deep, muddy, tidal creek formed by the Martcombe Brook rising just a couple of miles south of the village. A ‘pill’ is the West Country and Welsh name for a tidal creek – there are several pills along this stretch of the river, each identified with its own prefix, our old, ‘proper’ name is Crockerne Pill, see below for explanation. The Martcombe Brook spills into the River Avon, two miles or so south-west from where it joins the Severn. Shirehampton is only the river’s width across from us (but a different world Continue reading

Discovering Sheffield – in the footsteps of family ghosts

Proud neon sign in the excellent Kelham Island industrial museum

Two and bit years ago I visited Sheffield where our son Will had been living for a few years during student days at the University and later working there. He loved the city and had made many good friends but was about to move to Vienna to join his Austrian girlfriend, so this was probably a last chance to explore the city with him to follow up on some family history connections I’d not known about on earlier visits to see him.

I knew my father’s family came from Sheffield but little else of the family’s history at the time Will started at University in 2005 but it was interesting how quickly he felt at home in this city of his ancestors and took so readily to the nearby Peak District that had beguiled my paternal grandparents – they met when they were both members of an early 20th century rambling group I believe and later named their house in Oxfordshire after Winnats Pass. Continue reading

In the (e) zone(s) – filling up the flatlands

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Setting off on a job to photograph Weston-super-Mare’s Enterprise Zone recently, the car began emitting bad sounds and demanded immediate attention from our Motorman in Avonmouth. Now Avonmouth is somewhere that’s always looked pretty dismal in my view and I’ve had no cause to explore it before but with time to kill there while waiting for the repair I wandered about the streets near the station to see if I could find any endearing qualities. Continue reading

Roman walls, Post Office curtains and hidden wireworks

The Post Office Curtains

The Post Office Curtains

Placescape –  Caerwent and Lower Wye area

Living on the far left hand margin of the West of England is pretty good in terms of places to visit for a non-urban day out; within a 35 – 40 minute drive we can be amongst sand dunes at Berrow, leaning into the wind on the craggy heights of Brean Down above the Severn, looking down Cheddar Gorge from the top of the Mendips, wandering in the lush pastures of the Chew Valley, paddling in a stream in a wooded, flowery valley on the Cotswold Way, or admiring wading birds in the Severn wetlands at Slimbridge.

These are very roughly south, east and north of home but, within the same time scale, if we go west we can be in another country, and a different world, Wales. We can see the Black Mountains across the Severn from outside our village Co-op and for me they are always alluring. Continue reading