There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Cannock Chase a Little Warmer: The (N + 1)th Annual Fish and Chip Walk

I am unsure exactly how long the Chip Walk tradition has been going, but it is over a decade. In the early days it was not always on Cannock Chase: I remember once reaching the Hollybush in Denford on a day when any self-respecting owner of a hammer and a cubit of gopher wood would have been building an ark, and dripping our way through lunch. In those days it was not even called the chip walk; it was merely a celebration of the end of the Christmas term.

I think, though I may be wrong, that I have been a Chip Walk ever-present, as has Francis and, until this year, Brian. Strangely he decided that a two week tour of Burma followed by Christmas and New Year in Hong Kong would be preferable to legging it across Cannock Chase. Mike and Alison T were also missing, the prospect of winter sunshine in Lanzarote being enough to lure the weaklings away.

The remaining hardy souls gathered at the Coppice Hill car park on the 20th of December, a year to the day after the Nth annual Chip Walk. In 2010 the ground was covered in snow and the thermometer as I was driving to the Chase dipped to -13°, the lowest I have seen. This year there was no snow, not even any frost, and the temperature was a balmy +7.
 
I only said 'smile for the camera'

Arriving at the car park, Sue and Lee spotted the only deer we would see all day. I was driving so I missed it. Starting at Coppice Hill on the ridge to the west of the Sherbrook valley saved the usual upward slog at the start of the walk. The track along the ridge gives good views over the valley. A jay flew across our path and sat in a tree, watching us. It was about the only wildlife I saw all day.


Looking across the Sherbrook Valley
We strode on past the Glacial Boulder, missing it by just enough not to be able to see it. It is not much of a boulder, really; it is interesting only because it is in the wrong place, left solitary and forlorn when the ice-age glaciers retreated.
 
Alison and Francis near the glacial boulder

After missing boulder-no-mates we also missed the Katyn Memorial by some fifty metres, so this is a photograph I took on another occasion.



Katyn Memorial, Cannock Chase

In May 1940, 22 000 Polish army officers, policemen and intellectuals were massacred in the Katyn forest in Russia. The Nazis were officially blamed, though many Poles remained doubtful. It was not until 1990, in the era of glasnost, that the Russians admitted responsibility, the order having come directly from Josef Stalin. Although Staffordshire has been home to a substantial Polish community since 1945 it is not entirely clear to me why, in 1979, a memorial to the victims was erected on Cannock Chase. I have read that the forest here is very like that at Katyn, though I have no idea if that is true.


Near the Katyn Memorial - like a Russian forest?
Either before or at the Katyn memorial we usually turn east, descending into the Sherbrook Valley. On this occasion we carried straight on to another Chase oddity, the German War Cemetery. The bodies of almost 5 000 German servicemen who died in this country during the two world wars were moved here in 1959. The site is administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under an agreement with the equivalent German organisation. Like all the Commonwealth War Graves we have seen in Europe, North Africa and the Far East it is immaculately kept.


German Military Cemetery, Cannock Chase

We continued south before turning east across Brindley Heath. This is a long way round to the visitor centre - where tradition demands we drink coffee by the bird feeding station - but it avoids having to dip into and climb out of the Sherbrook Valley.

Slogging across Brindley Heath, Francis remarked that we rarely visit this corner of the Chase. He paused for a moment before observing that it actually looks exactly like every other bit.


Across Brindley Heath
There was little of interest at the bird feeding stations. Robin’s hopped right up to us, as they do, and there was a bullfinch on the feeding table but little else worthy of comment.

 Following Marquis Drive south east, we descended to cross the railway and the A460 before climbing up towards Stile Cop. As we passed Parson’s Slade, and have elsewhere encountered (among others) Pepper Slade and Haywood Slade, Lee asked the very reasonable question ‘what is a slade?’ As resident know-all and smartarse I was embarrassed by being unable to answer. Chambers tells me that ‘slade’, from Old English slæd, is ‘a little valley or dell; a piece of low moist ground.’



Sue and Alison approach Stile Cop

From Stile Cop we descended to Horsepasture Pools. Here, and all along Marquis Drive we passed mud-bespattered peddlers on mountain bikes. The bikes’ gearing is remarkable, and on steep uphill stretches riders spin the peddles with enormous speed and effort to achieve only minimal forward momentum. Walking seems much easier uphill and much safer downhill.


Mountain bikers near Horsepasture Pools

From the pools we ascended Hare Hill to Upper Longon where Lee’s car was parked. There is supposed to be a great grey shrike resident in the clear-felled area near the village. ‘They are not difficult to see,’ Francis said, ‘they sit quite openly in the tree tops.’ Not on this occasion, they didn’t.


Binoculars at the ready, but not a shrike in sight

As we reached the lay-by, two other cars arrived and disgorged more occupants than seemed possible. One of them carried a camera with a telephoto lens longer than my arm. By the time they had crashed through the undergrowth, the shrike would be half way to Derbyshire.

 Lee drove us down to the Swan with Two Necks in Longdon. A decade or more ago somebody (Francis?) noticed that the Swan with Two Necks served excellent fish and chips. Good fish and chips are easy to cook, but stand-out fish and chips are another matter. The freshness of the fish and the crisp, light batter made The Swan with Two Necks an irresistable destination for the pre-Christmas outing, and the Chip Walk was born. Sue, sadly fails to understand tradition. The large bowl before her contains pasta with chicken and bacon in a cream sauce. It looked good, on another occasion I might have eaten it myself, but this is a CHIP WALK, SUE! Like many rural pubs the Swan with Two Necks has seen several changes of ownership over the years. The fish and chips are still good (if no longer stand-out) and, thankfully, the place remains open.


The essential ingredient of a Chip Walk,
The Swan with Two Necks, Longdon

After lunch we drove back through Rugeley – no day out is complete without a viewing of the power station – and on to the Seven Springs car park near Little Haywood.

Last year we had a long afternoon session with a detour down Abraham’s Valley. This year we kept it short. The stroll down to the Sherbrook is enjoyably different as it is one of the Chase’s few remaining areas of deciduous woodland.


Towards the Stepping Stones

At the stepping stones Lee and Sue plodded steadily across……


Lee and Sue plod across

….while Alison employed a different technique. Sadly, she never succeeded in taking off.


Alison attempts to fly

A steady climb up the other side brought us back to Coppice Hill. The second shortest day of the year still had half an hour’s light left, but we felt enough exercise had been taken to justify our intake of calories. Whether the same can be said of the rest of the Christmas period is another matter.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Three Favourite Taoist/Daoist Temples: Hong Kong, Huizhou and Qingyan

See also
Three Favourite................

Taoism/Daoism is not an easy religion for a westerner - most specifically this westerner - to get his head around. The opening words of the Tao Te Ching/Dao De Jing, Taoism/Daoism's key text are: The Tao/Dao that can be expressed is not the true Tao/Dao.

But before failing to express it, you should decide how to spell the Tao/Dao. In Chinese it is , which means way or path (to which English happily adds –ist or -ism), but how do you render in Roman lettering?

There are two main translitertation systems. Wade-Giles, developed in the 19th century and the most widely used until the 1970s, gave us ‘Peking’ and ‘Mao Tse Tung’. Pinyin, developed in China in the 1950s prefers ‘Beijing’ and ‘Mao Zedong’. Pinyin is used throughout China (conveniently for western travellers all street names, road signs, metro stations etc., etc.  display their names in pinyin as well as Chinese characters). Pinyin is a better approximation to standard mandarin pronunciation and has now been almost universally adopted. Almost, but not quite. A tourist in 北京 (Beijing) can still eat Peking duck, drink Tsingtao Beer and visit a Taoist Temple. In pinyin that would be Beijing duck, Qingdao Beer and Daoist Temple.
 
Once a spelling has been chosen you then have to consider the distinction between philosophical Daoism (spelling choice made!) and religious Daoism. Some argue that they are not even related, they just happen to have the same name, others that the religion grew from the philosophy.

Philosophical Daoism was developed during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) and is concerned with the individual’s position in the natural order. It emphasises the ‘Three Jewels’, compassion, moderation and humility. Religious Daoism arose some 700 years later probably from a melding of Chinese folk religion with Daoist philosophy. To add further complications, Daoism has no organisational hierarchy, although the same cannot be said of the gods; the Daoist pantheon mirrors the Imperial Chinese bureaucracy, with gods being promoted or demoted on the basis of performance.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong

Daoism is Hong Kong’s main religion. Temples to Tin Hau, the goddess of the sea, are ubiquitous, but Hong Kong’s biggest temple is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin, a mythical shepherd boy whose job it is to cure illness and bring good fortune.
Wong Tai Sin Temple
Hong Kong

Built in 1973 the temple is probably the least spiritual religious building we have ever visited. Hong Kong is a relentlessly materialistic society and worshipping Wong Tai Sin is just another commercial transaction. The devotees buy some incense sticks and dutifully bow their heads, and in return Wong Tai Sin sorts out whatever needs sorting out. Frequently this involves ensuring luck for gamblers.  Devotions over, temple goers scurry off to shake a pot of bamboo prediction sticks or consult the fortune tellers, whose booths - over a hundred of them - surround the temple.

Devotees at Wong Tie Sin
Hong Kong

A Muslim Uighur we met in Xinjiang (China’s westernmost province and in theory the Uighurs’ Autonomous region) said, rather contemptuously of his Chinese neighbours (and rulers) ‘They have no religion, only superstition.’ While that might be unfair of the Chinese as a whole, Wong Tie Sin would seem to support his contention.  On the other hand there is nothing sanctimonious about the worshippers, and there is a complete lack of hypocrisy. For that reason - and for its optimism and vivacity, I liked the place.

Nine Dragon Wall, Wong Tai Sin

Daoist Temple, Huizhou, Guangdong Province

Huizhou is an unremarkable city in the People’s Republic, some 100 km northeast of Hong Kong. It was here our daughter Siân spent 18 months teaching English, and it was visiting her in Huizhou that sparked our interest in China. Now, seven years later, we have visited the country five times.

I generally find Buddhist temples to have a serene and spiritual quality, but I am much less comfortable with Daoism. Siân, on the other hand, complains that, in Huizhou at least, the only contact she had with Buddhists was as persistent and even aggressive chuggers.

Daoist Temple, West Lake, Huzhou

To escape the crowds, which are ever-present in heavily populated Guangdong, she would retreat to the park, the small entrance fee sufficient to provide some peace. The Daoist Temple stands on the edge of the park.  I really liked [it]’ she said ‘because it wasn't special, or glitzy (well, enormous gilded statues not withstanding), but...  like a church, it had atmosphere….. I always used it in visualisations when you have to choose a place you feel relaxed in when learning to meditate in preparation for childbirth.’ No one would say that of Wong Tie Sin.


Qingyan Daoist Temple, Guizhou Province

Qingyan walled city

Huizhou may be unremarkable, but the same cannot be said of Qingyan, just south of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province in southwest China. Since the 1970s China has become quite good at looking after (sometimes over-restoring) its ancient monuments, but there are fewer examples of preserved vernacular architecture. Qingyan is an artfully pickled Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) walled city.

Qingyan Daoist Temple

The Buddhist temple is quiet and serene, the nearby Daoist temple is bustling and busy. The many temple attendants, in all-black uniform, wandered around, always present, always doing something but not apparently interested in us – like shop assistants in Dixon’s.

Raised stage, Qingyan Daoist Temple

What cannot be denied is that with its incense and urns, with its raised stage and surrounding carvings, the place has some style.

Detail of Carvings, Qingyan Daoist Temple

See also
Three Favourite................



Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Kochi and Lisbon: The Two Graves of Vasco da Gama

Kochi, formerly called Cochin and the second largest city of Kerala, India's most south-westerly state, is well worth a visit. I will get round to writing about it in full one day [I did, after our second visit in 2016, click here] but this short post concerns only the Anglican church of St Francis. Although the church is firmly on the tourist route, it is fair to say that for most people it will not produce one of their abiding memories of the city. It is a plain building, which must be why I took no photograph. The picture below is stolen from Wikipedia.


St Francis, Cochin
India's first European church was built on this site by the Portuguese in 1506. That wooden construction was replaced by the present building ten years later. When the Dutch took Cochin in 1663 the church converted to Protestantism and then, after the British arrived in 1795, it became Anglican.

There is not a great deal to see inside, either.


Inside St Francis, Cochin

The long narrow pieces of material apparently dangling from two low beams are actually punkahs. In the days before air-conditioning, the punkah wallahs sat outside pulling on the ropes, which can be clearly seen, and the punkahs wafted a cooling breeze over the worshippers inside.

Like many churches there is a visitors' book and the name above ours is that of Sir Peter de la Billière, Commander-in-chief of British forces in the 1990 Gulf War. He is the elderly gent with a military bearing and blue shirt at the far end of the church. The shambling non-military man in a blue shirt nearest the camera is me.

Vasco da Gama led the first expedition to sail from Europe to India via the Cape of Good Hope, arriving in Calicut, a little north of Cochin, in 1498. His three voyages to India opened up the trade route and established a Portuguese presence on the west coast. Some of his trading practises were indistinguishable from piracy, but he did India, and indeed the world, a great service in introducing the chili to the sub-continent. He died in Cochin in 1524 and was buried in this then rather new church.


Lynne by the grave of Vasco da Gama, Cochin

But we thought that we had seen the grave of Vasco da Gama before.

Santa Maria de Belém was once a fishing village 6 km west of Lisbon, though it was long ago absorbed into Lisbon's urban sprawl. It is most famous for the Torre de Belém, built beside the River Tagus about the time that Vasco da Gama was in India, and intended as part of Lisbon's defences.


The Torre de Belem, Lisbon

The Jeronimos Monastery dates from the same period and is just a short walk away.


Jeronimos Monastery, Belem, Lisbon
It now contains the National Maritime Museum as a well as a church. Inside the church........


The Grave of Vasco da Gama, Belem
...is the grave of Vasco da Gama.

He was, it seems, buried in Cochin and then, fourteen years later, dug up and taken home to Lisbon. They did not want his body to fall into the hands of Hindus, Muslims or, worst of all, Protestants.

Vasco da Gama certainly got about, but I would have thought that one grave was enough for anyone.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Three Favourite Buddhist Temples and Monasteries: Beijing, Lhasa & Kharkhorin

I am not a believer, but I am interested in religion and I have a soft spot for Buddhism. It seems to suffer less from the false piety that often spoils other religions. Buddhists are relaxed and tolerant in their observances; you are supposed to walk clockwise round temples and other religious sites, but if you get it wrong, nobody shouts at you or tuts or even stares. I like that, and it somehow makes me try harder to do it right.
I like religious buildings.  I like their architecture, I like the history they contain and I like the sense of community they embody. Building a church, mosque, or as in this post, a Buddhist temple is somebody’s attempt at the sublime. Sometimes it is built for the greater glory of god, sometimes for the greater glory of the builder. Here I am appreciating their efforts not judging their motivation.

Yonge Gong, Beijing

Built in 1649, what is now the Yonghe Gong was originally a residence for court eunuchs. It then became the palace of Prince Yong, who turned part of the complex into a lamasery when he became emperor in 1722. On his death in 1733 Tibetan Buddhists were invited to take over the whole site. Developments since then have produced buildings which mix Tibetan and Chinese styles. 


Lynne at the Yonghe Gong

The temple complex survived the Cultural Revolution and re-opened to the public in 1981. One of the charms of the place is that after so many years of religious repression many would-be devotees do not seem sure of what they should be doing.

Uncertain worshippers, Yonghe Gong
The temple contains a remarkable 18m high statue of the Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood.


Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of sandalwood

The Drepung Monastery, Lhasa

The Jokhang temple, in the centre of Lhasa, is the heart of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a fascinating place to visit and I hope to get round to writing about it one day, but as a building it is not very photogenic. The same is not true of the Drepung Monastery.

Five kilometres outside Lhasa, Drepung is the largest monastery in Tibet. At its peak there were as many as ten thousand monks. There are now less than a thousand, and with tight Chinese control the monastery lacks the moral authority it once had, but when we visited in 2005 it was clearly a thriving community. 


Just Part of the Drepung Monastery Complex

It is a large complex on many levels on the side of Mount Gephel.  Climbing from courtyard to courtyard up steps that were more ladders than staircases was hard work. It was our second full day in Lhasa and the thin air at 3500m (11 500 ft) took its toll. Lynne leaned against a wall to get her breath and then slowly slipped down to a seated position. Leaving her in the ticket office in the care of some solicitous and friendly monks I continued alone.*


Drepung Monastry
Sadly, she missed the hall full of monks chanting sutras.....


Chanting monks, Drepung Monastery

....the monk's prayer hall near the top of the complex.....


Prayer Hall, Drepung Monastery
....and this view of a lone monk standing on a roof, surveying the world.


Waiting for his kettle to boil, Drepung Monastery
True son of Tibet that he is, he stands behind the gold encased finials waiting for his kettle to boil.

* Lynne got her own back four years later. In 2010 she went to see the palace of Tipu Sultan while I languished in our Mysore hotel suffering the after effects of a dodgy murgh makhani.



Erdene Zuu, Kharkhorin, Mongolia

Erdene Zuu is some 300 km from Ulan Bator. Getting there involves a long drive, most of it over grassy steppes - quite literally, there is no road.

Ghengis Khan built his capital of Karakorum on this site in around 1220. Not being a settling down sort of guy, Ghengis soon moved on, though the city thrived for a while before being destroyed by a Ming army in 1388. The monastery of Erdene Zuu was built in 1585, using such remnants of Karakorum as were available. The site is surrounded by a wall containing 100 stupas. 108 is a mystical number in Buddhism, so perhaps somebody miscounted when they were building the stupas.


Erdene Zuu


The modern 'city' of Kharkhorin - actually no more than a big village - is marked by the industrial looking smoke in the distance.


Stupas, Erdene Zuu


By the end of the 19th century there were over 60 temples on the site, but in 1939 it was largely destroyed by the communists.


Survivng Temple, Erdene Zuu



Inside a temple, Erdene Zuu


What remained then became a museum but in 1990 the site was handed back to the lamas and again became an active monastery.


Monk taking a prayer wheel for a walk, Erdene Zuu




Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Cowpat Walks: 1 Ironbridge Gorge

After spending some 25 days between February 2008 and May 2011 walking in large circles first round Stafford and then round Swynnerton, followed by a smaller circle round Stone (which appears on this blog in three parts here, here and here) we were running out of places to go.

Francis suggested a series of circular walks around points of interest on or near our previous routes. I, somewhat whimsically, wanted to call them petal walks. Mike observed that they were roughly circular and scattered randomly about the map so should be dubbed ‘cowpat walks’. I hate it when somebody has a better idea than me, but here I nobly admit defeat: Cowpat Walks they are.

We gathered at Mike’s for bacon and oatcakes. Thus fortified, Mike drove us to and then round (or was it through?) Telford. Apparently 162 000 people live there but, like Milton Keynes, the other 1960s invention I drive through regularly, it is hard to tell if you are in the town or not. Where is Telford? What is it hiding?

Telford may be difficult to spot, but the same cannot be said of the Wrekin. This 400 m high pile of ancient and heavily weathered lava dominates northern Shropshire and can be seen from Swynnerton some 40 km north – and indeed from much further away. Little Wenlock sits at the foot of the Wrekin and we parked on the southern edge of the village. The last houses enjoy a spectacular view across the Severn valley to the Long Mynd, Caer Caradoc and Clee Hill. They should also be able to see the Wrekin, just a mile to the northeast, but today it was sulking beneath a bank of cloud.



The Wrekin - somewhere inside that cloud.
 We walked south over the small protuberance of Braggers Hill and down towards the Severn.  We soon had an excellent view of Ironbridge power station. There were few spots on the walk where we could not see either the power station or the Wrekin (mist permitting) - or both. The current version of the power station has been generating electricity since 1967. It may be hard to believe, but it was designed to merge as seamlessly as possible into its natural surroundings. The concrete of the cooling towers has a red pigment, granite chippings decorate the turbine hall, and it hides round the corner of a cliff so as to be invisible from Ironbridge itself. Friends of the Earth claim it is the second most polluting power station in Britain per megawatt output. There are no plans to reduce its emissions to meet modern standards and it will close in 2015 [Update Dec 2015: It was converted to burning wood chips in 2013 and closed in November 2015].

Ironbridge B - a coal fired power station opened in 1967

A long, straight, stony descent brought us to the river just east of Buildwas. 

Mike wears shorts in November
We, and the A4169, crossed the river on a bridge built in 1905 to replace Thomas Telford’s original. The constructors seemed pleased with their efforts and erected a commemorative plaque. I paused to wonder what the great engineer would have made of the city named after him, then I plodded across the somewhat nondescript bridge that replaced his 18th century structure.
 
The constructors seemed pleased with their efforts
As we crossed the bridge, a coxed four appeared round the bend in the river. Rowing downstream they moved with impressive rapidity and soon passed beneath us.

Moving swiftly with the current, River Severn
For a kilometre we had no option but to follow the main road away from the river, passing Buildwas Cistercian Abbey. Maintained by English Heritage, the ruins are open to the public but are too well screened by trees to be worth a photograph - and hardly worth a mention.

Crossing the Severn valley from the Malverns to Breedon Hill had taken us a whole day (or more accurately two half days a year apart). Here, 60 km upstream, it took less than an hour. Crossing back at the Ironbridge gorge would take minutes.

Leaving the main road we struck off south west into low wooded hills. After some climbing, some contouring and some more climbing we emerged into an open meadow near the top of the hill.

A nice picture of the stile which allowed us to 'emerge into an open meadow'
In front of us the land dipped and rose to more woodland, the trees clothed in their autumn colours.
'In front of us the land dipped and rose....'
We stopped briefly for coffee before descending the hill, crossing the A4169 and turning north across open farmland. This side of the hill we could not see the Wrekin but the power station chimney (at 205 m the tallest structure in Shropshire) was there to guide our steps.

The power station chimney was there to guide our steps...
A minor road took us to the hamlet of Wyke from where we crossed more farmland to Benthall Edge. A kilometre west of Ironbridge the river bends north and the cliff that forms the southern edge of the gorge turns south, leaving enough space between them to accommodate a modest power station.

As the cliff leaves the river it becomes wooded and less precipitous. We followed the Shropshire Way on its long descent across the face of this scarp. On the bank we could see clear signs of old workings, the first indication that there had once been industry here.

Alison leads the descent
We passed the fourth cooling tower of the power station and reached the river, though we were still 40m above it. Turning east we followed the stream and descended steadily. We noticed the first buildings of Ironbridge village on the far bank, then caught sight of the bridge itself through the trees. Soon we emerged on the road beside it.

Brian and Alison would help with the route finding - but only Francis has a map
Major advances in iron smelting were made near here by Abraham Darby in the early eighteenth century. Cast iron became much cheaper (and locally abundant) so in 1775 Thomas Farnolls Pritchard designed an iron bridge to be built across the Severn. He died in 1777 but the work was taken on by Abraham Darby III, the grandson of the man who had made it possible. The world’s first iron bridge was opened on the 1st of January 1781.

The settlement of Ironbridge grew up around the bridge. Tourism started early and in 1784 the bridge’s owners built a hotel to accommodate visitors. We marched across the bridge and straight into that hotel in search of lunch. The less said about the sandwiches the better, but the Station Bitter, from the Stonehouse Brewery in Oswestry, was exceptionally good. 

The Iron Bridge
After lunch we paused briefly to photograph the bridge before heading straight up the side of the gorge through village streets too steep and narrow to have ever carried wheeled vehicles. As usual on walks, I phoned Lynne to assure her that I was still alive and fully intended returning home. The steepness of the path meant that most of the call consisted of heavy breathing. I do not make a habit of this.  

I'm doing heavy breathing on the phone AND trying to take a photograph -
no wonder I'm lagging behind 
No sooner had we climbed up, than we started down, through more woods, towards Coalbrookdale. The path was signed to ‘Paradise’. I have always thought of Paradise as being vaguely ‘up’ but the descent was steep; indeed purgatory for those with arthritic knees. We emerged beside the Coalbrookdale Youth Hostel in a street called ‘Paradise’. The youth hostel, housed in a 19th century former literary and scientific institute, is an imposing building, but none of it quite lived up to my concept of paradise. Come to think of it, I have only a hazy idea of what paradise might be like – it might even involve a bar of chocolate-coated coconut.

Abraham Darby’s blast furnace was located in Coalbrookdale and fired by coal from drift mines in the surrounding valleys. Pedants might point out that the Industrial revolution did not start on one place, it involved a range of new ideas developed over a wide geographical area, but given the importance of cheap iron and the early date involved, Coalbrookdale has some justification for claiming to be the cradle of the industrial revolution.

In its pomp, Coalbrookdale looked more like hell than paradise, at least according to the 1801 painting ‘Coalbrookdale by Night’ by Philippe Jacques de Loutherburg, which now belongs to the Science Museum in London. I have shamelessly half-inched this image from Wikipedia.

Coalbrookdale at Night
Industry can look bad, but post-industrial dereliction looks worse. Coalbrookdale has gone beyond that and arrived at post-industrial cute folksiness. We passed the iron museum, a row of cottages that must soon form part of a museum and an old furnace pond. All this, along with the iron bridge and Blists Hill Victorian Town, forms a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Furnace pond, Coalbrookdale
We also passed the Aga cookers factory  - some industry does remain in Coalbrookdale. Ironbridge, however, was never particularly industrialised and the largest factory there belongs to Merrythought Teddy Bears. This may not be heavy industry, but they are responsible for producing the mascots for the 2012 Olympics.

We left Coalbrookdale along the Rope Walk, a long straight path above Leamhole Brook once used by ropemakers for stretching out and twisting together the strands of hemp. As the path left the village the surroundings became more wooded and the path became rougher. It rose gently and although we were quite deep in the valley, the brook was a long way below us.

The Rope Walk, Coalbrookdale
The path, such as it was, eventually climbed out of Leamhole Dingle. Crossing the bridge over the main road, we found ourselves back in open farmland. A field of unharvested maize and another where a bull eyed us warily before running away brought us back to the top of Braggers Hill.

Back to the top of Braggers Hill
Sunset made the Shropshire hills look much more impressive and mysterious than they really are....

Sunset over the mysterious hills of Shropshire
but we turned our backs to them and retraced our steps down and then up to Little Wenlock and the end of the walk. 
Down and then up to Little Wenlock
Thanks are due to Mike for providing breakfast and doing the driving, Francis for planning the walk and doing all the map reading (well that is what happens when you are the only one with a map), and to Alison T who just happened to be taking a cake from the oven as we returned: fine timing, fine cake.


The Cowpats