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Autumn Colours at Westonbirt

Autumn Colours at Westonbirt

Today’s blog is a pictorial one, because sometimes a picture does paint a thousand words, and the National Arboretum at Westonbirt has 15,000 specimen trees to choose from.

Covering 600 acres, the arboretum lies about 3 miles south-west of Tetbury and is located next to Prince Charles and his Highgrove House Estate.

There are 17 miles of footpaths covering two distinct areas; there is the Old Arboretum, which is an area formally planted to create vistas and avenues of trees – and Silk Wood, which is less formal and has a more natural woodland feel to it.

The planting began in the mid-19th century as part of the Westonbirt House Estate (the house became a girls’ boarding school in 1927) and is now managed by Forestry England.

From Mid-October to Mid-November people flock to Acer Glade to witness the fantastic spectacle of the Japanese Maples changing colour. The exact time to see them at their best changes slightly each year depending on weather conditions before and during the season.

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From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

From Tiger Bay to Cardiff Bay

At the beginning of the 19th century the population of Cardiff was less than 2,000, but the lush green valleys to the north were about to change – and so was this small town at the mouth of the River Severn.

The reason for this dramatic change was all down to the increase in demand for coal which was needed to power the Industrial Revolution – and which the valleys of South Wales had plenty of.

The Glamorgan Canal, and then the Taff Valley Railway, enabled the Black Diamonds to be transported down the valleys to the coast where places like Newport, Barry, Penarth and Cardiff all vied for the lucrative export trade.

While everyone else was working down the coal mines, there was one man that was sitting on a gold mine, – namely the 2nd Marquis of Bute. He realised early on that there was going to be money made in the iron and coal industries of South Wales, and in 1839 he built the first of Cardiff’s docks at West Bute to handle the trade.

As the docks expanded, so did the appeal to come and work here: Butetown, as the area became known, attracted immigrant workers and seafarers from all corners of the globe, and it wasn’t long before the area became known for all the wrong reasons. Although several theories have been bandied about, it’s not really known for sure why the docks and Butetown became known as Tiger Bay – but the name stuck, and just like its feline counterpart, began to earn itself a fearsome reputation. If you wanted somewhere to go and get drunk, have a fight, or meet a prostitute – or all three – Tiger Bay was the place to come.

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The Isle of May

Pilgrim's Haven

The Isle of May

Located in the mouth of the Firth of Forth, about 5 miles and a 45-minute boat ride from Anstruther, is the uninhabited Isle of May. I say uninhabited, but that’s not strictly true because it’s home to a fantastic collection of seabirds.

If you think that this is yet another lovely peaceful Scottish island, you’d be wrong because the first thing that will hit you when you arrive on this 1½ mile long island is the deafening noise made by around 200,000 birds.

Admittedly, it was breeding season when we came, and apart from bringing some ear plugs, I would also recommend wearing a hat, preferably a white one.

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Slapton Sands and Exercise Tiger

Start Bay looking towards Start Point

Slapton Sands and Exercise Tiger

The sweeping arc of coastline between the mouth of the River Dart and Start Point is known as Start Bay, and includes a two-mile-long beach that extends from Blackpool Sands to Hallsands.

The most easily accessible part of the beach is between Strete Gate and Torcross, where a road just manages to separate the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley from the sea, but for how much longer I wouldn’t like to say.

Slapton Sands, as this part of the beach is called, gets its name from the small village of the same name which lies just about a mile inland: Why the beach is called Slapton Sands I have no idea because it consists mainly of shingle and pebbles.

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The Bearpit

The Bearpit

I’d like to think that my wanderings sometimes inspire people on places to go, but at the same time I also think it’s worthwhile pointing out places where they shouldn’t, and The Bearpit is one of them.

The reason I’m writing about The Bearpit is because it’s right in Bristol’s city centre and it would be easy to inadvertently find yourself in a place that you wish you hadn’t.

The official name of this sunken pedestrian plaza is the St. James Barton Roundabout and is located at the point where several busy roads meet near to St. James’s Priory Church, which is generally regarded as Bristol’s oldest surviving building.

How the church managed to survive the air raids in WWII I’m not sure, because much of the densely populated area around it was flattened.

The area was left pretty derelict until the late 1960s when bold new plans were realised. These included Avon House and Avon House North, which as their names suggest, were huge administrative office blocks for the newly formed county of Avon.

The problem with 1960s architecture is that it all seemed such a good idea at the time: It was a time to forget the past and move on to a bright exciting future, and it was during this time that St. James Barton Roundabout was constructed.

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Hitler’s Olympics

Hitler's Olympics

For someone who didn’t even like sport, it might seem somewhat surprising that Adolf Hitler was able to stage one of the most successful, albeit controversial, games in Olympic history; they were so successful in fact, that the format has been followed in much the same way ever since.

The background to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in many ways goes back to WWI, and the Langemarck Hall at the Olympic Stadium is a telling reminder of how Hitler had never forgotten his time in the trenches.

Langemarck was a WWI battlefield in Belgian Flanders and somewhere I visited several years ago. The war cemetery there holds 44,000 German soldiers including many inexperienced young men.

When the stadium, and the Langemarck Hall, was constructed in 1936, Hitler was known to turn to a few confidants to proclaim that there would be “Revenge for Langemarck”.

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The Berlin Festival of Lights

The Berlin Festival of Lights

This week I’ve been sifting through a load of old pictures which is a great exercise in procrastination if ever there was one.

Most of them will never see the light of day outside of our own four walls because they were taken in pre-digital days in the form of prints or transparencies, but here are some that were taken digitally in 2015.

Each October since 2004 Berlin brightens up the Autumn evenings by staging the Festival of Lights.

Landmark buildings and monuments are turned into an amazing light art festival, and although there’s not much to say about them, I’ve decided to include a selection as a gallery for posterity.

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The Siegessaule

The Siegesaulle

In the middle of The Tiergarten at Grosser Stern, stands the Siegessaule, or Victory Column, and if you’ve got €3 – and the energy – it’s possible to climb the 285 steps to the viewing gallery that sits just under Victoria, the Roman goddess of Victory.

The monument was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack, and the 8.3m golden statue on top of the column was added by Friedrich Drake and represents both the Goddess of Victory and Borussia, the Latin name for Prussia. Her face is supposedly based on Drake’s daughter and known as the Goldelse (Golden Else), or roughly translated as ‘Golden Lizzie’.

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The Tiergarten

Schloss Bellevue

The Tiergarten

The official German name for the park known as The Tiergarten is Grosser Tiergarten, which helps to distinguish it from the district of the same name.

This huge park in central Berlin covers an area of some 520 acres roughly enclosed by the River Spree on its northern edge to the Tiergarten Strasse in the south, and from the Brandenburg Gate in the east to the zoo in the west.

The Strasse des 17 Juni runs through the centre of the park from east to west, and where it meets the Großer Stern (Great Star) the Siegessaule (Victory Column) stands sentinel over the whole park around it.

Only Templehofer Park (the former Templehof Airport) and the English Garden in Munich are larger so it’s best not to underestimate its size before deciding on where to go.

The name Grosser Tiergarten literally means ‘Large Game Park’ and gives a clue to its original use.

In the 16th century the Great Elector, Friedrich Wilhelm, turned this marshy ground into a hunting enclosure, but during the 17th and 18th centuries the area was gradually turned into more formal pleasure grounds for the people of Berlin – wide avenues were constructed, trees planted, and monuments erected.

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The Kollhoff Tower

View from the Panoramapunkt

The Kollhoff Tower

Kollhoff Tower stands at Potsdamer Platz 1, opposite the Sony Center and is named after its architect, Hans Kollhoff.

In contrast to the other glass and steel structures in the square, the building is constructed out of peat-fired bricks with a design more reminiscent of a New York skyscraper. It soars 100 metres up into the Berlin sky and was completed in 1999.

Mainly built with office space in mind, I don’t suppose too many people will be overly enthusiastic about these statistics, but it might interest people more if I say that the fastest elevator in Europe catapults you up to the 24th floor in just 20 seconds where there is an open-air viewing platform with some of the best views in Berlin.

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