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…..



Thursday, 29 August 2013

Chocolate Teapots

A teapot is a useful, arguably essential, article. You can pay what you like for a teapot; Wedgwood currently offer a Jasper Conran designed china Pinstripe Teapot for a little over £100 and this is a bargain compared with the prices of some antique teapots. I am, though, perfectly happy with this every-day, utilitarian and inexpensive teapot. It does the job perfectly.
 
A useful, though unremarkable teapot


Some people go into raptures about chocolate. I am not like that, but I do like a bit of choccy (who doesn’t?) whether milk or dark.

Should a top Belgian chocolatier, Pierre Marcolini or Laurent Gerbaud maybe, construct a Jasper Conran designed teapot using 80% cocoa solids chocolate from, say Ecuador or Madagascar, then he would have produced something rare, expensive - and supremely useless.

But of course, nobody would make a chocolate teapot, would they? On the other hand they might make a ……

Marble Boat 
Summer Palace, Beijing. August 2007

The Chinese Emperors sited their Summer Palace outside Beijing in the 12th century, though the towers, temples and pavilions seen today date mainly from the early 20th century - the Anglo-French invasion of 1860 and the Boxer Rebellion (1897-1901) destroyed many of the older buildings. The 3 square kilometre site, now between Beijing’s 4th and 5th ring roads, attracts several thousand tourists a day, mainly local but with a good sprinkling of foreigners.

We spent a whole day there. I loved the names of the buildings. Some have a ‘does what it says on the tin’ quality…..
 
The Glazed Tile Pagoda of Many Treasures
Summer Palace, Beijing
…… while others seem aspirational.
 
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
Summer Palace, Beijing
The site surrounds an artificial lake and the Clear and Peaceful Boat sounds appropriately aspirational. The more usual name The Marble Boat describes it precisely.
 
The Clear and Peaceful Boat
Summer Palace, Beijing
Obviously a marble boat will never sail anywhere, it was largely used for picnics. There is a story (told even by the usually reliable Rough Guide) that the Dowager Empress Cixi, who ruled China from 1861 to 1908, spent money earmarked for the Imperial Navy on building the marble boat thus contributing to heavy naval defeats during the Sino-Japanese war. In fact, The Marble Boat was built in 1755, but she did spend 30 million taels of the navy’s silver (a lot of money, apparently) on refurbishing and extending the palace and they did lose the war.

The Stone Chariot
Vijayanagara, Karnatika, India, February 2010

The village of Hampi in northern Karnatika sits inside the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of an empire of the same name. The empire and city were destroyed by the Deccan Muslim Confederacy in 1565.

Many of the city’s building still survive including the Lotus Mahal in the queen’s quarters…..
 
Lotus Mahal, Vijayanagara

 ….and the elephant stables.


Elephant Stables, Vijayanagara

Several temples also survive, including Vittala Temple.
 
The Vittala Temple, Vijanagara


Most Hindu temples have chariots, in which the deity is carried through the streets during festivals. When not in use they can be parked in specially constructed garages as here at the  Chennakeshava temple in Belur in central Karnatika….
 
Chariot in a garage, Chennakeshava Temple, Belur

….and they can then be taken out and decorated for a festival, like this one in Udipi on the Malabar coast.


Chariot ready to roll, Udipi

Not so the chariot at Vittala temple, it is made of stone and will stand immobile in the courtyard until hell freezes over.
 
Stone Chariot, Vijayanagara

 Mow Cop Castle
 Staffordshire January 2009 & November2005

 The village of Mow Cop (Mow is pronounced like the Chinese Chairman, not like cutting grass) sits on a low hill 6 miles north of Stoke-on-Trent. Open air prayer meetings held here by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes developed into the Primitive Methodist Movement which split from the Wesleyans in 1810. They reunited in 1932.

Mow Cop


Mow Cop Castle is not a classic chocolate teapot, but it is as much use of one. It was built in 1754 by Randle Wilbraham and designed to look like the ruin of a medieval fortress with a round tower. He used it as a summerhouse. More money than sense?
 
Mow Cop Castle in November sunshine 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Cowpat Walks: 7 Scaling the Mighty Weaver Hills

Scaling the what?

The Weaver Hills are not, it seems, well known. Typing ‘Weaver Hills’ into Google Maps leads you to Weaver Hills Drive in Aguanga, a tiny, remote desert community in southern California. It is, arguably, even more obscure than Staffordshire’s Weaver Hills.

Driving northeast from Uttoxeter and past the JCB works at Rocester brings you to Ellastone, where the map says there is a left turn to Wootton, the village at the foot of the hills. Lee’s Satnav disagreed – indeed it failed even to recognise Wootton’s existence.

Despite the suspicion that we had arrived in some sort of Staffordshire Triangle, the loose cluster of handsome stone buildings looked reassuringly solid. The village even boasts two large country houses; we saw Wootton Lodge at the end of the walk, but missed Wootton Hall, designed by Inigo Jones and now owned by the Greenall brewing family. Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived there in 1776 and suffered a mental breakdown, which is what you get for living in a mystic triangle.
Walking through Wootton
l to r: Alison, Francis, Lee, Sue
Nothing, of course, can be real unless it has a virtual existence. I am thus happy to report that both Wootton and the Weaver Hills have Wikipedia entries. From the latter we learn that the Weavers are ‘considered to be the most southerly peaks of the Pennines.’ Well, maybe.
Wikipedia also call them a ‘small range of hills.’ They looked large enough from where we stood, certainly larger than my father-in-law, and if all seeing Google can spot him going out to mow his lawn, it seems strange they missed these.
 
The Weaver Hills, not huge, but difficult to miss
On the edge of the village a spaniel (of sorts) came racing down a side-road to join us.
As we followed the lane towards the hills the dog came with us, frequently finding a way through the hedges to left and right, but always returning to the lane, sometimes ahead of us, sometimes behind.
Once past the cricket club we entered open country and it seemed wise to send it home. Lee called the dog to him with a masterful voice. It ran over, lay at his feet and looked up for further instructions. ‘HOME!’ said Lee. The dog continued to look at him. ‘HOME!’ he repeated in a very masterful voice while pointing towards the village. The dog remained unmoved.
Alison, who rarely talks in capital letters, grabbed its collar and found a phone number. She called the number but it did not exist. There was nothing else we could do, if the dog wanted to come with us, then there was no way to stop it.
We made our way into the gap between the two main peaks.....
Into the gap between the two main peaks
Weaver Hills
....and at the highest point – calling it the ‘top of the pass’ seems too grand - we turned left and climbed up to the trig point.
On the summit of the Weaver Hills
It had taken us 45 minutes from base camp to summit, which makes you wonder what they do all day on Everest. To be fair, the Weavers rise to a dizzy 372 metres, 130m lower than Shutlingsloe (see Cowpat 5) – and that is the third highest peak in Cheshire!
On better days the view to the south and west would have been good, but it was a cool, misty morning and the clouds threatened rain. The views to the northeast involved quarries, whatever the weather.

Wardlow Quarry from the top of the Weaver Hills
We had ascended the steep south-western side, but to the north-east the land slopes very gently towards the Staffordshire Moorlands – the Weavers are a one-sided range of hills.
 
While we paused for coffee in the shelter of a limestone scar, the dog ran off, but returned as soon as we were back on our feet.
Towards Wardlow Quarry on the flatter side of the Weavers
The path round the back of Wardlow Quarry had little to recommend it. The dog found a half rotted piece of rabbit, or maybe a bird - it was too decayed to be certain - and proceeded to eat it. Then it lay in a puddle. Sue picked up a length of bailer twine in case the need arose to put it on a lead.
Beyond the quarry we turned down a pleasanter valley and for a while the dog disappeared. It reappeared, shooting across our path in hot pursuit of a panic stricken rabbit. That, we thought, might be the last we would see of it, then we started to retrace our steps as we had taken the wrong path.

The wrong way down a pleasanter valley
near Wardlow Quarry
The dog re-joined us on the right path as we made our way past a campsite where people were doggedly pitching tents and looking forward to the dubious pleasures of a cool, damp bank holiday weekend. At one point the aroma of frying bacon drifted across. It smelled good to me, and the dog obviously agreed. We might have lost it at this point, but the campsite fence proved impenetrable.
 
It seemed a good idea to put the dog on the makeshift lead before we reached the B-road, but it ran ahead and crossed the road while we were talking about it. A couple of hundred metres further would bring us to the A52, which is neither big nor busy as A-roads go, but is still an A-road. Stopping well short of the road Lee called the dog over and Sue slipped the nylon bailer twine through its collar. Another look at the phone number suggested that Alison may have misread a rather worn 6 as a 5, so she called again. This time the owner answered. He had observed the dog chasing after us and had expected it to return, but we were now so far away that seemed unlikely. We would next follow the main road to Hoften’s Cross and the owner agreed to drive out and meet us there.
 
Fifteen minutes later we made the rendezvous. The owner thanked us, stuck his very wet and dirty dog in the boot and drove off. I speak only for myself, but I was happy to see the mutt go; I do not really like dogs, not even clean ones.
 
Millennium Garden, Hoften's Cross
Leaving Hoften’s Cross (not a particularly attractive village, but at least it has kept its apostrophe) we passed a sawdust repository (what does anyone do with all that sawdust?) and proceeded into open country.
Leaving Hoften's Cross
We were now in pleasantly rolling countryside. A village nestled in the valley before us, the thin, elegant spire of its church sticking out above the trees.
 
Down towards Cotton
When we reached the valley all was not as it had seemed. After passing a couple of stone houses we came to this sad sight.
 
The former Cotton College, Cotton
Cotton Hall, I have since learned, was built in 1630. In 1873 a catholic boys’ boarding school moved here from Wolverhampton and changed its name to Cotton College. The school occupied the site for 100 years, but the time for such institutions passed and after struggling for some years it finally closed in 1987. It is a shame that the building has been left to decay.
A few paces up the road, the parish church of St John the Baptist hides behind a hedge. The small, neat church was built in 1795, but it obviously lacks the spire we had seen earlier.

St John the Baptist, Cotton
The spire belongs to St Wilfrid’s 50m further up the road. Before becoming a school Cotton Hall had been the home of Frederick Faber and the religious community he founded. Faber had been an Anglican priest but followed John Henry Newman in converting to Catholicism. Augustus Pugin designed St Wilfrid’s Church which was built in 1846 soon after Faber moved in. The church became the chapel of the college and stayed in use until 2010 when it was closed as the roof was dangerous. Like Cotton Hall it is now rotting quietly.
 
The spire of St Wilfrid's, Cotton
Faber was a prolific hymn writer and many of his hymns are still sung. The best known, Faith of our Fathers was written in Cotton and has two versions, one for Ireland (which had never deserted that faith) and one for England. The third verse of the English version…
Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.
 …. is now usually omitted.
In the 1970s and 80s I taught in a catholic comprehensive school in Birmingham. The hymn, including the verse above, was regularly sung at the end of term mass. My (overwhelmingly Irish) catholic colleagues used to earnestly discuss whether it was appropriate for them to sing it. As a prod/agnostic (and a Welsh one, to boot) I thought it best to keep my own council.
 
Most of the village of Cotton is a little further down the road. Unlike Cotton College, Faber (Voluntary Aided) Catholic Primary School looked to be thriving. A little further on, at the crossroads, we reached Ye Olde (sic) Star Inn where we briefly paused.

Ye Olde Star Inn, Cotton
Lunch at Ye Olde Star was accompanied by a couple of pints of Black Sheep which is always pleasing. Sue had a bowl of chips, a perverse choice from someone who once came on a fish and chip walk and ate chicken and pasta.
Lunch over, we had a moment of uncertainty outside the pub as none of the four roads led in the right direction. The fifth road, the one we wanted, was hiding round the corner.
We soon found it and 500m later turned off and crossed some woodland......

...and crossed some woodland...
....to a gate in the deer fence surrounding Wootton Park. Most of the afternoon would be spent crossing classic English parkland.
Into Wootton Park
To our right we could see Alton Towers, or at least the former stately home of the  Talbot family, the largely forgotten part of the theme park. The wind was in the right direction so we were spared the public address, the music and the screaming. I have lived in Staffordshire for 20 years and have never been to Alton Towers - and see no reason to change that.

Alton Towers across the valley

Leaving the parkland through woods, we joined a minor road which rounded a small lake before petering out beside a field of brassicas. Following the field boundary took us to a stile into more woods and then to another minor road.

..a minor road rounded a small lake....
We followed the pleasantly shaded road – unaccountably known as Waste Lane - up through rocks and woodlands until a footpath sign directed us to a crack in the wall.

...a footpath sign directed us to a crack in the wall.
Being well-nourished I found the space a touch small. We emerged onto what I at first thought was a golf course. The immaculate fairways turned out to be the lawns of Wootton Lodge which was built in 1611, badly knocked about in the civil war and restored in 1700. It is now owned by JC Bamford who has, so far, resisted the temptation to paint it yellow.

Wootton Lodge
We crossed Sir JCB’s lawn, disappeared into a small wood and re-emerged in his deer park. The grass here had been grazed rather than manicured, but still looked better than my lawn.
 
A selection of JCB's deer
Rather than attempt to find a tricky path through the wood we followed the estate road to the park entrance. After a breather we took a simple path through the woods, down to the road and back to Wootton.

Ripe Rowanberries in the day's final section of woodland

Despite the dire weather forecast and the morning mistiness, the clouds threatening rain had failed to deliver and then gone off in a huff leaving an afternoon of gentle warmth and even some sunshine. Amid signs that autumn is not far away, we had made the best of a pleasant late summer’s day.