Saturday, September 21, 2013

Calverley 5

On Friday we left Calverley and visited nearby Saltaire. The model town was founded in 1851 by Titus Salt who wished to provide a clean and efficient base for the community employed in his woollen mill. Our tour guide gave a superb description of the town and its people under the domain of Titus Salt. Whilst they were well cared and catered for, they did have to pay for those privileges, however it was the patented manufacture of Alpaca cloth that secured Salt's fortune. However, even his extraordinary wealth could not ensure the future of the town indefinitely. After he died the mill ran for several decades before being abandoned in the late 20th century. A local entrepeneur, Jonathan Silver, then bought the site and working with artist David Hockney created a gallery space like few others. The town is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Calverley 4

On Day Four we headed West and visited the Media Museum in Bradford. This museum, also free, has 5 floors of fixed and changing exhibition space devoted to all forms of media from the last ten decades. Hands on displays allow visitors to practise reading the news, film in front of a blue-screen and try mixing the results. Also the BFI archives can now be plundered; book a free booth and sample delights such as Mr Ben, Think of a Number, Hancock's half hour and many more!
This excursion left us very little time at the end of the day, thus half an hour was really not enough time to do justice to the Bradford Industrial Museum (also free) which can be found north of the city.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Calverley 3

On Wednesday we parked near Roundhay Park in north Leeds and visited Tropical World. This unremarkable series of buildings actually has quite a nice variety of animals including butterflies, reptiles, birds, fish, bats and meerkats. They could do with spending a few extra pounds to tidy up some of the vivariums but this was still a pleasant distraction for at least a couple of hours. In the afternoon we headed to Harewood House which has very nicely restored state rooms and grounds designed by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. In the evening we met my parents who joined us at Calverley to stay for the remaining two days and nights. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Calverley 2

On Day Two we headed back into Leeds via Kirkstall Abbey. The nearby museum had an interesting Victorian themed set with shops and the like. The abbey itself was obviously none the better after Henry's Act of Supremacy. The weather too meant we didn't stay too long but headed into Leeds where we found the Royal Armouries. This is an excellent free museum with large exhibition spaces devoted to armour from all parts of the world. The Hall of Steel, armour-plated elephant and an exhibition of weapons from The Hobbit film were all highlights.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Calverley 1

We headed North via Bolsover Castle (Eng. Her.) and arrived at Calverley Old Hall (Landmark Trust) which was to be our base for the week. The mediaeval hall was acquired by The Trust in its entirety such that they were able to restore the main hall and provide accommodation for five. The adjoined old chapel and Solar are still unrestored awaiting future decisions about how they can be included in the property let.
In the evening we went into Leeds for the obligatory Pizza Express followed by a film, 'Rush', at the local Everyman. This is an treat that is highly recommended. It's a cinema experience like few others; double seat sofas, leg room aplenty, it caters for wine drinkers and pizza eaters with nairy an obnoxious teenager in sight. Truly a Picture Palace for grown ups!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Fire and Rain

Stanford Hall Fireworks Champions 2013 was this year contested by Flashpoint Fireworks, F1 Pyrotechnics, Spitfire Pyrotechnics and hosted as usual by MLE. The winners by public SMS vote were F1 Pyro who managed to balance their musical backing and creative display better than the other teams. 


On Sunday we braved the rain showers and visited Baddesley Clinton. Despite the weather it was very busy but no less enjoyable than usual. The Trust seems to be working hard at making all its sites less formal and the scarecrow vegetable garden was a nice addition to the property. 

Saturday, July 06, 2013

27th Hollowell Steam

Matt and Lucy came to visit this weekend and we all enjoyed an absolutely glorious Saturday at the Hollowell Steam Event. The usual attractions of engines and animals, plus a fly past by the Memorial Flight Dakota all made it a great day out. After helping John bump start his BSA we came home to play games in the evening at Simon's and then completed the weekend with a trip to IKEA and appreciation for a certain Mr Murray who played a cracking game of tennis!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Twycross Zoo

Twycross Zoo is renowned as a specialist primate zoo with around 900 animals of more than 160 species to see. You can walk with  ring-tailed lemurs in their enclosure; enjoy feeding time with the elephants, see giant tortoises sunbathing and watch penguins take their daily walk.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Unstoppable Momentum

Went to see Joe on the latest leg of his Unstoppable Momentum tour. Guillaume and I had some great seats at Wolverhampton Civic Hall and the 2 hour set was fantastic. Simple visuals complemented many of the new and old tracks. Highlights inevitably included Satch Boogie and flying in a blue dream.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Bill Bailey

We went to see Bill on his second night at Warwick Call Arts Centre, during his current tour: Qualmpeddler. Highlights for me included the musical sections such as Horntallica and a Dub Reggae version of Downton Abbey. The show was interspersed with plenty of his usual 'whimsy' and the apparent discovery of a new catchphrase but I expect he'll come back to that later. I'd like to see more coherence between his sketches as it sometimes felt like a tombola of anecdotes but he still manages to deliver great buckets of humour in all the right places.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Upton House

To give Blofeld a run in the sun we visited Upton House (NT) and admired the lovely gardens with their tulip beds and views of rolling Oxfordshire countryside.

Friday, April 26, 2013


A weekend excursion to Cromer meant we had a relaxing stay at Felbrigg Hall (NT) in the self catering Stable Apartment. As well as a tour round this property we also visited nearby Blickling Hall and also had time to enjoy the Bure Valley Railway and take a cruise around the Wroxham Broads. Along the way we had fish and chips in Cromer, watched the sun set on the East coast (?) and enjoyed a night at the cinema to watch Iron Man 3. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Japan 15

April 06

Our last full day in Japan and we started with coffee and a leisurely look around Shinjuku. After meeting back at the Hotel with the others we all jumped on the train to Disneyland to enter with a starlight pass. Unfortunately there was very little starlight but plenty of rain. Whilst this meant the fireworks were cancelled it did mean that many people left early and allowed us to get on all the rides we wanted. By 9pm we were soaked and headed back to the hotel.

April 07

On Sunday we left Shinjuku and caught the train to Narita. Whilst every other journey we had made during our 2 week stay was perfect, our return leg started badly when the NEX got held up. After which our flight was delayed and we missed our connection in Paris...

April 08

..So after a night in Roissy, we eventually left Charles de Gaulle, landed in Birmingham and arrived home via taxi a mere 36 hours after we'd started.

However, this did nothing to diminish what had been a truly amazing holiday!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Japan 14

April 05

On our last day in Kyoto we got an early start and walked from our hotel, through a local park towards Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. The turntable and roundhouse act as a central point for the 19 engines on show.
To the North we walked past the local fish market and caught the subway back to Nishiki Market. After exploring some more and buying some souvenirs, we picked up a Bento Box from Sushiden and caught the Hikari Shinkansen back to the Tokyo. We checked in at the Washington Hotel and this time we all had rooms at the front of the hotel with views out to Shinjuku District.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Japan 13

April 04

Today we ventured South to Nara, Japan's first capital city. Nowadays the central park is home to hundreds of deer and encompasses the shrine at Kasuga Taisha and Todaiji Temple. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns which can be found hanging from its buildings and lining its approaches. Todaiji's main hall is the world's largest wooden building. The massive structure houses a 15m tall bronze statue of Buddha and at the back of the hall visitors can attempt to squeeze through a column with a hole that is the same size as one of Buddha's nostrils. Apparently this is a good thing!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Japan 12

April 03

We managed to rouse ourselves and get going by 10am and headed South East to Fushimi Inari Shrine. The restored paintwork is very striking and the hundreds of torii gates that lead up the mountain provide lots of arresting views.
We then headed North towards the Heian shrine and gardens filled with weeping cherry trees. After leaving there we walked South under the immense torii gate that spans the road and continued on into Higashiyama. The 'old style' streets and alleyways were filled with locals in traditional dress and tourists keen to enjoy the sakura season.
Turning West we moved into the Gion district via the Kenninji Temple complex and continued on to the Nishiki market: a covered network of streets with hundreds of small shops, boutiques and outlets selling food of every description.
By the time we'd walked through the market it was getting darker, so we decided to try the floodlit viewing at Nijo Castle. The trees looked wonderful but surprisingly difficult to capture on camera.
To end our day we headed back to Porta and found a very nice sushi restaurant where we could sit at the counter watching the chef prepare our nigiri sushi. Absolutely delicious (and the home-made wasabi was to die for!)

Whilst we did all this the others went to Miyajima and Hiroshima.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Japan 11

April 02

The weather today was less favourable and the forecast predicted rain, but this did not deter us from heading West to Arashiyama and the Sagano Scenic Railway that cuts through some of the mountains surrounding Kyoto.
We strolled through the groves of  towering bamboo and admired the river gorge spanned by Togetsukyo Bridge before climbing 160m to meet the the monkeys; they live on a fairly large reserve atop a mountain with wonderful views back across the city.
After descending we caught a local train to Kitano Hakubaicho and quick marched towards the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) before it closed. By now the rain had set in so we decided to make our way East to treat ourselves to another Freshness Burger at Kitaoji and the subway back to the hotel where we ate Donuts and played Ticket to Ride.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Japan 10

April 01

Today promised to be a nice sunny day so we headed North on the subway to Imadegawa and then walked East to meet the top end of The Philosopher's Path. Along the way we had a late breakfast courtesy of an artisan bakers before going to explore the Silver Temple (Ginkakuji) and gardens. Although a little crowded, the grounds are truly stunning with beautiful vistas at each turn of the path.
Heading south along the Philosopher's Path we admired the cherry trees in full bloom, occasionally taking a detour to see Honen-in Temple or a ceramics shop, or bookstore or even a shop dedicated to rabbits!
At the southern end of the path we reached Eikando and Nanzenji temples, and after exploring them a bit we headed back, via some secluded back streets with very desirable houses, towards central Kyoto and a lovely tempura restaurant in Porta.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Japan 09

March 31

We left the Washington hotel nice and early to ensure we had enough time to get from Shinjuku to Shinagawa during rush hour with all our cases. We arrived in time for breakfast at the station before boarding our Shinkansen which swooshed through the mountains and countryside to our destination.
At Kyoto we left the train terminal on the South side and walked the long way round to the nearby Apa Hotel. After checking in we dumped cases and went to explore the massive new station building on the North side. The huge enclosed space covers 11 floors and includes hundreds of shops and stores as well as providing great views across the city. Following tea and cake in the 'Country House Café' and some more exploring we went to find some proper food. Having failed to find the restaurant we'd picked from the guide book we randomly chose 'A!Jisei' simply because we could read some of the menu. At first it seemed we were heading into someone's living room but when the waitress showed into a small room with bamboo matting and traditional low tables we realised this was going to be a more traditional dining experience. The food was absolutely wonderful, was complemented by Sake and rounded off with a bowl of tempura ice-cream! Fabulous.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Japan 08

March 30

On our last full day in Tokyo we split up again. Matt and Lucy headed northwest to the Ome Railway Park on the outskirts of Tokyo whilst we went into the heart of the city and explored the Imperial Palace East Gardens. Unfortunately we had been unable to purchase tickets for the Imperial Palace itself, but the gardens were still a pleasure to walk around. The contrast between the busy city and peaceful gardens is quite stark, and with many of the trees in full bloom the only thing missing was a bit of sunshine!
We left the gardens and exited past Nijubashi and on into Ginza. By now we were peckish so decided to try Freshness Burger; what a great idea! The food was cooked to order and delivered like it was about to be put in a promotional photo. Delicious and juicy! McDonalds could learn a lot.
Refreshed, we carried on into Ginza and explored the Sony building where all the latest toys are on display including a 4k TV for £12k. We then strolled down Chuo Dori which was closed to traffic and managed to have a quick look around Hama Rikyu Gardens with its tidal pools and field of yellow rapeseed. By now most places were closing but we figured we had time to visit the Tokyo Tower which provided fantastic views over the city at night. Finally we got back to the Washington Hotel for a curry at Ghandi's with Matt and Lucy.

Hama Rikyu
Tokyo Tower

Ome Railway Park

Friday, March 29, 2013

Japan 07

March 29

Today, I went to Odaiba with Matt and Lucy whilst the others went to Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. The yuirkamome elevated train took us across the Rainbow Bridge onto the man-made island, past the Fuji TV Headquarters and into Palette Town. We got off to explore the Toyota Megaweb & History Garage before continuing on to the new shopping centre, Diver City, outside which is the lifesize Gundam Mobile Suit, that comes to life each hour. We walked around the Decks and Joypolis amusement arcades before heading back to Miraikan (Museum of Emerging Science) and then back to Shinbashi where we met up with the others again. After looking around Shiodome a little we decided to get some food from an Izakaya back at Shinjuku.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Japan 06

March 28

Today seemed the perfect day to visit the Skytree and make the most of those views across Tokyo - and possibly even see Mt. Fuji. Unfortunately, on arrival at Sumida we disovered a process for ticket purchasing that none of the guides had mentioned: Queue for a ticket that allows ticket purchasing at a predetermined time (3pm in our case); Queue to purchase ticket; Queue to gain access to first level observatory; Queue to purchase ticket for second level observatory (only available from first level); Queue to gain access to second (top) level observatory. Queue to get down.
We thought about all this for 5 minutes and then decided that we could make better use of our time visiting some other sights. So off we went to the zoo!
At Ueno we bought lunch and had our picnic under the sakura with the locals, then headed to see the animals. The zoo is not especially progressive and whilst the animals seem in good physical health, many of them seem a little bored or lacking stimulation. So, after seeing the pandas, tiger, elephants, giraffes, penguins, polar bear, reptiles, etc. we left Ueno via a lively food market and went North to Suidobashi. Here we strolled though the amusements and thrill rides looking for somewhere to eat. We decided to try a Hub Pub which was quite entertaining, not least when they brought our fish & chips or jacket potato meals with chopsticks. At least they had Sarsons malt vinegar!
Returning to Dome City we had a quick turn on the ferris wheel (with roller coaster through the middle) and then scoffed some delicious crêpes before heading back to Shinjuku. I then left the others, who went back to the hotel, and took some nice night shots of the skyscrapers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Japan 05

March 27

Today saw an even earlier start to catch the Tohoku Shinkansen to Utsinomiya and then a local train to Nikko. (The others went in a similar direction to Matsushima Bay, just North of Sendai)
Although it was dry when we arrived, by the time we'd walked up through the town to Shinkyo Bridge it had started to rain. We bought our tickets and headed in to the renovation building that now shrouds Rinnoji Temple. The restoration of this temple alone is planned to take at least eight years and is indicative of the massive rolling programme that covers all the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples across Japan. We continued the tour around Toshogu and Futarasan shrines and Iemitsu Mausoleum admiring the incredible decoration and literally soaking up the atmosphere. By now we were fairly wet through so we had decided to have some ramen in a local cafe and then headed back home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Japan 04

March 26

We had an early start to get the Hikari Shinkansen from Shinagawa to Odawara. An hour later we got on the Hakone Tozan mountain railway to Hakone-Yumoto and from there it was a bus to Moto-Hakone. After getting our bearings we strolled along the ancient cedar avenue that marks the Old Tokaido (highway) towards the recently reconstructed Hakone Checkpoint (used to control traffic between Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo period)
At Hakone Machi we boarded the 'pirate' ship and cruised across Lake Ashi to Togendai on the North shore. After a bite to eat we took the ropeway (cable car) up the mountain to Sounzan where the sulphur springs are put to use cooking eggs for tourists. The water turns the shells black but they taste much the same as normal. On the other side of the mountain we took the cable car (funicular train) back down to Gora and back home via the Hakone Tozan.
All in all a great day out even though the weather was cooler in the mountains and we still didn't get to see Fuji!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Japan 03

March 25

We left the hotel by about 10am and took the Yamanote line from Shinjuku to Ueno. We then walked along Asakusa Dori, admiring the mixture of old and new buildings, junk shops and generally soaking up the atmosphere as we became more accustomed to being in a vast foreign city.
By the time we arrived at Sensoji temple it had started to rain. We admired the repair work being done on the huge lantern in the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) and continue along Nakamise dori to the Buddhist temple. We had a brief encounter with several school children who were intent on practicing their English before leaving. At Asakusa station we each purchased a Passmo and hopped on the Ginza line to Akihabara. We have a look up and down Chuo Dori and pause for food at a Yoshinoya and then take some time to explore 7 floors of tech at Yodobashi Camera. Deciding that this had earned us a  reward of cake we ended up in an expensive German Tea Shop.
Leaving 'Akiba', we went South to Tokyo Station and briefly stroll through the skyscrapers of Marunouchi District and in to the International Forum. By now it was getting dark so we quickly went to look at Nihonbashi bridge (Tokyo's zero mile marker) and ducked into Mitsukoshi department store to avoid the worst of the weather. After sampling the delights of the food hall for an hour we made our way back to Shinjuku and found a nice restaurant called Tonkatsu Wako. Finally we arranged seat reservations on the Shinkansen to Odawara tomorrow...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Japan 02

March 24

First off, we exchanged our JR vouchers for JR Passes at Shinjuku station. We then headed out into Shinjuku to look for coffee, which took us a little while. Eventually we found somewhere near the NTT Docomo tower. From there we continued walking until we reached Yoyogi station where we picked up some food and headed on towards the Meiji shrine. It was quite a nice day and there were plenty of couples getting married. We looked around the temple buildings for a while and then moved on to Yoyogi Park to find a bench where we could eat our lunch. Once we'd finished and continued walking along the path we realised where everyone else had been heading - the area under the cherry blossom trees was absolutely covered with hundreds of people having their own picnics! We strolled round the park and then Takeshita Dori before ending up in Shibuya where we stopped for coffee at Starbucks to watch the crowds at the famous crossing. Later, as we went back to the hotel we stopped for a bite at an Izakaya (where Lucy had an exciting moment with her money belt).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Japan 01

March 22

Leaving home before 6am we manage to beat the snow and get airborne to Paris without any problems. The transfer at Charles De Gaulle is straightforward and after a quick coffee we board the Airbus A380 to Narita. The flight is very smooth but I don't manage to get much sleep. Instead I watch Wreck it Ralph, Looper and Argo and we discover that the inflight chat system thinks 'button' in a swear word(?)

March 23

Having arrived in Japan we decide to get the Narita Express straight to Shinjuku and sort out the JR Passes on Sunday. The train takes 90 minutes and gives us our first glimpse of cherry blossom and the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo. The check-in at the Washington Hotel is from 3pm onwards, so we  grab some lunch from the combini and go to admire the views from the observatory deck (45th floor) of the Metropolitan Governemnt Building. By 4pm we are in our rooms and relaxing. Later we freshen up a bit before finding a restaurant in the hotel that sells noodles and Katsu curry, etc. and eventually to bed.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bone Walk

Following the start of Siân's course in Animal Bone Archaeology we went hunting for finds. Our search was ultimately fruitless (except for one large horseshoe) but I'm inclined to think a bracing walk through the Warwickshire countryside followed by a plate of cheesy chips at the Old Lion in Harborough Magna was still a pleasant way to spend Sunday afternoon.