Archive for May, 2008

This other Eden (1): Swindon

West of London and east of Bristol in Wiltshire (South West England) is Swindon. Three miles west of its centre, on the edge of town is Lydiard Park.

In 244 acres of parkland are the eighteenth century Lydiard House, its walled garden, an exceptional church and close by a kids’ adventure play area. Bought by the former Swindon Corporation in 1943, entrance to the parkland is free and well used.  The landscaping is mature and breathtaking.

Six ground floor rooms in the house are open to the public with good exhibits and an impressive range of paintings including a Stubbs.  If you’re interested in literature, there’s a portrait of the Bolingbroke upon whom Swift was said to have based Gulliver and a famous portrait of the libertine poet John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

The church has a unique ‘Golden Cavalier’.  The walled garden is large.  Links to photos, videos and maps below.

Lydiard: http://www.picturetheuk.com/uk-tourism/search?act_q=lydiard
Swindon: http://www.picturetheuk.com/uk-tourism/destinations/swindon-30844.html

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This other Eden (beginning)

When I was a child, I’d leaf through books and dream about visiting exotic places.  Nepal, Peru, Russia, Botswana.  Everest, Machu Picchu, Red Square, the Okavango.  Never the UK.  Never England.  Never Scotland.  Never Wales.  Never Northern Ireland.  Never the UK.  Never, as Shakespeare put it about one of these countries, ‘this other Eden’ (Shakespeare, ‘Richard II’, Act II, Scene I).
These days (days spent in the mid-thirties in the company of our three foot tall children) The Cuillin in Skye are every bit as breathtaking as Everest.  Tintern Abbey as Machu Picchu.  Trafalgar as Red Square.  Pembrokeshire as the Okavango.  The UK is exotic.  No doubt about it.  ‘This other Eden’. 
We’re going to write about all the exotic places we have on these islands starting with ‘This other Eden (1): Swindon’.  Yep, Swindon 🙂  Over the years, I hope to write about hundreds, thousands of places. 

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77 years young

Reports out today that a 77 year old Nepalese man has scaled Mount Everest making him the world’s oldest person to do so.  That’s ‘wow-news’.

Having stood at the bottom of the thing at around 19,000ft feeling a bit like how I thought a 77 year old would feel, I doth my fleece hat to him.

Not about the UK, I know, but kind of inspirational. 

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No new thing under the sun and all that

Yesterday, we uploaded information on Cirencester Roman Ampitheatre: http://www.picturetheuk.com/uk-tourism/attraction/roman-amphitheatre-843.html.  One of the mental notes when doing so was, ‘what happened there, was it a Colosseum in Rome mini-me?’  Did they fight to the death for entertainment?

There’s a great quote from the writer Kurt Vonnegut: ‘One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain.  You will have entertained us.’

Plus ca change.

Entrepreneurs, new media journalists, VCs (and other people who fund business ventures) are an excitable bunch: http://www.theequitykicker.com/2008/05/22/the-history-of-media-tells-us-the-web-will-change-the-world-profoundly/ The world’s being re-shaped, made new, it’s all change, the future will be unrecoginisable they say and yet plus ca change.  The more it changes, the more we seem to stay the same.

(‘There is no new thing under the sun’, Ecclesiastes, The King James Version of the Bible).

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Red soil and pink sheep

The story so far.  Fish with prototype legs crawl out of the water onto land at roughly the time Dartmoor is first forming.  Later (a lot later), continents collide to form a supercontinent.  The UK is in the centre of this continent and what is now Devon is a dome of rock under which hard granite is forming.  Over time, the dome of rock erodes and the granite becomes exposed and we have Dartmoor National Park.

But between the creation of the supercontinent and the erosion of the dome of rock is a vast stretch of time.  For 80 million years of that time, the UK was a desert.  Stranded in the centre of the supercontinent, a huge distance from water, the UK turned into a Sahara.

Time moved on and in the area that is now Devon, the chemicals from this desert rock leached down into the rocks below and stained them red.  That’s the red soil we see today when we drive around Devon.

And because the soil’s red, the fluffy white sheep get covered in the stuff and turn pink.  So, a pink sheep has about 300 million years’ worth of time in its wool.


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And the answer is: fish with legs

That’s what Professor Richard Southwood writes on p73 of ‘The Story Of Life’.

So, when Dartmoor first started forming 400 million years ago (http://www.fossilwalks.com/dartmoortors1/formation1.htm), ‘we’ and, indeed, mammals were hundreds of millions of years in the future and fish were crawling out of the seas, evolving into the forerunners of amphibians.

The Dartmoor National Park we see today was, incidentally, largely formed around 290 million years ago when two massive continents called Gondwana and Laurasia collided to form the supercontinent Pangaea.  Devon and Cornwall were at the southern tip of Laurasia and that collision forced the crust of the earth upwards into the shape of a dome.  The rock in the dome cracked, molten rock or magma filled the cracks and subsequently cooled and formed granite.  Over the years the softer rock of the dome eroded and the harder granite rock became exposed.  And that’s what Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, Land’s End and the Scilly Isles are.


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YouTube and many millions of years ago

Just set up a new YouTube account to publish footage taken around the UK.  It’s under http://www.youtube.com/user/picturetheuk if interested and we’ll be adding thousands of videos during 2008. 

Fancying a break, I thought I’d write about Dartmoor National Park.  Why it looks like it does, how old it is etc.  So, have been looking through six piles of papers for a book I bought in Cornwall last year.  Haven’t found it yet but whilst thinking of a title for this post it got me thinking about where humans were in evolutionary terms when Dartmoor was formed which, from memory, started some 400 million years ago.  Read a book about that a couple of years back but have forgotten. I think the primate part of our evolution started 85 million years ago so suspect we were something distinctly less grand.

So, am going to find both books and find out what Dartmoor and we were doing many millions of years ago.

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Milton’s Mulberry

Four hundred years ago, a Mulberry tree was planted in the Fellow’s Garden at Christ’s College, Cambridge Univeristy.  Later in 2008, a sapling from this tree will be planted in Drover’s Wood which is close to Hay-on-Wye in mid-Wales.  The genius poet John Milton used to write under the tree in Cambridge.  Hay-on-Wye is famous for its literary festival.

Hopefully, the people behind this fine PR will YouTube the planting of the sapling because we’d love to host the material on picturetheuk.  John Milton is up there with Shakespeare, his poem ‘Paradise Lost’ is one of the finest works of English literature and PR like this is much needed because he should be read more.

John Milton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_milton

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‘In the nineteenth century, workmen digging clay for bricks at Fisherton, near Salisbury, found hundreds of bones.  These bones were the remains of animals that had lived in the river valley between 250,000 and 10,000 years ago.

There were many animals living in the area that are not found in Britain today.  They were attracted here by the water and plentiful food.

When the climate was warm herds of horses and packs of hyenas lived here.  Later, as the climate got colder, reindeer and wolves became more common.  Even woolly rhinoceros and mammoths walked through the area where Salisbury stands today.’

These words are taken from the excellent Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum http://www.picturetheuk.com/uk-tourism/attraction/salisbury-and-south-wiltshire-museum-100.html.

Pre-children, we camped in Botswana in southern Africa.  Needing a pee in the middle of the night, we unzipped the tent to find a male hyena staring at us.  They’re big and apparently have the strongest jaws of any creature in the bush.  Can’t remember what we did but when reading that information board in Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum,  it made me think I wouldn’t want to bump into a pack of them. 

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Ten o’clock

Why do attractions such as the British Museum or National Trust properties open at ten o’clock?  Presumably it’s a cash thing, not wanting to pay people for the extra hours?  Sure, if it’s an excellent but slightly out of the way place such as Battle Abbey in East Sussex then fine but the British Museum?  Central London, one of the world’s great museums, loads of people waiting outside, why?  Please tell me.

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