Blog : Posts tagged with 'countryside'

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Summer railway

In which we have a trip out by train


Never mind “Spring Bank Holiday”: it’s June, and it feels like it’s summer already: last weekend, we had a day at the beach, and both ended up horribly sunburned. As shorts aren’t an option for work, I winced every time I moved my legs. Yesterday: a bank holiday weekend, and beautiful sunshine again, so we went off for a cream tea and a steam train ride.

The footplate of a steam locomotive on a summer’s day is a horribly hot and airless place to be. Nevertheless, riding behind a steam engine seems like such a naturally summery thing to do. So we travelled down to the South Devon Railway,* for a day’s relaxation sitting in railway carriages and watching trains go past.

The South Devon Railway is, as steam railways go, an unusually scenic one. Being in Devon it’s surrounded by lush, verdant countryside; it follows the River Dart down from Buckfastleigh, past rough, rocky rapids; weirs and once-busy mill-races; finally alongside the more placid deeper, lower stretches of the river, down to its tidal weir just by Totnes station. It doesn’t take much effort for a train to trundle downriver; as we sat in the front carriage with the windows open, we could hear the locomotive clanking its way down the valley with barely any steam on, the vacuum pump making a light chiff noise for each revolution of the wheels. Every so often, a gentle touch of speed was needed, and we heard the deeper huffhuffhuffhuff of the cylinders, four huffs to each vacuum pump chiff. We passed sleepy red cattle, wading fishermen, and groups of wading photographers standing on mid-river rocks to take photos of the passing train.

Country trains often ramble a little, and pause unexpectedly. Midway along the line, we halted in a loop, and waited quietly for another train to pass. Other passengers, not used to this sort of thing, looked around and wondered what the problem was. We were too far away from the signalbox to hear the block bells chiming; but we could hear the rattle of the signal wires as the signals for the down train were pulled off, then we watched it slowly chuff past us before we started on our way again.

This is not Photo Post Of The Week, incidentally. That’s because the photos below aren’t ones I took yesterday; as usual, my photo uploads are far too backlogged for that. These, though, are from the last time I visited the South Devon Railway, about three years ago. The fixed stop signal has been repainted since, but not much else has changed.

Buckfastleigh station, South Devon Railway, down end Watering an engine whilst rounding the train, Buckfastleigh, South Devon Railway GWR tablet catcher, Buckfastleigh, South Devon Railway

* Things it is important not to confuse pt. 373: the South Devon Railway, the line from Exeter to Plymouth designed by Brunel, opened in the 1840s, and bought out by the Great Western Railway in the 1870s; with the South Devon Railway, the heritage railway formed in the early 1990s to take over the Dart Valley Railway’s tourist line from Totnes to Buckfastleigh and turn it from a business-oriented tourist attraction into a more charitably-run steam railway. You may spot a problem of similarity with the names there.

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Independent

In which we fill the weekend with music


A bit of a musical weekend, this weekend. A bit of a busy one too: there’s always too much in this town to choose between.

It started off with Big Pink Cake. Or, at least, the Big Pink Cake Indiepop All-Weekender, starting off on Saturday at the Cube. It offered free cake, so really there was no choice. Plus, Dimitra is always saying that we should go and see Pete Green, largely because he’s one of the best stars of indiepop to emerge from Grimsby in recent years. He does things like: release songs to benefit the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway,* too.

So, we ambled down to The Cube on Saturday afternoon for the free c… I mean, for the first stage of the Big Pink Cake weekend. The first few bands, including Mr Green, were to appear in the bar, which is really rather cramped. We saw a stream of bands play to the small crowd: The Short Stories, Countryside, Secret Shine, and at least one other band that weren’t on the roster. The singer of said band held up their CD and said that anybody there could have a free copy; the audience carefully avoided eye contact. No Pete Green though. He’d been moved to today’s setlist. Ah well.

After nipping out for food at Café Kino, we returned for the evening bands, over in the cinema. Being a cinema, each band had picked a film to be screened behind them, their choices all rather interesting. There was: something black-and-white from late-50s Britain,*** chosen by French band Electrophönvintage; La Dolce Vita, chosen by The Westfield Mining Disaster; Convoy, picked by Amida, March Of The Penguins accompanying Santa Dog, and classic British film Les Bicyclettes de Belsize showing behind The Pocketbooks. That does, really, tell you more about each band than I could explain myself.**** We weren’t really impressed by the sound quality, though, or the way that the first song of each set turned into a sound check. I definitely wasn’t impressed by the rather rude people in The Pocketbooks’ entourage who got up and started dancing, getting in everyone’s way and being generally annoying and offensive.

The Big Pink Cake weekender did – being, you know, a weekender – extend through to today, with an afternoon of bands at the Mothers Ruin. The bill included Pete Green (moved from Saturday, apparently) and Tender Trap, a band beloved of all C86/Sarah tweecore fans and/or economics experts everywhere. However, we didn’t go along, because we’d left on the Saturday feeling relatively uninspired. As luck would have it, in our meal-break down at Café Kino, we spotted a poster for a rather better-sounding gig that was on at the same time. So, instead, we spent our Sunday afternoon at the Scout Hut down on Phoenix Wharf.

At the Scout Hut we saw Jam On Bread and Mat Riviere, in the middle of a joint tour, supported by local band Boxcar Aldous Huxley. I’ve seen Boxcar Aldous Huxley before, and they were very good then; they were very good again today, with tales of Francis Dashwood, the responsibilities of the free press, and messianic movements in 19th century Canada. They were followed by Mat Riviere, who performed kneeling on the floor with a variety of keyboards and samples; and Jam On Bread, who had both a ukelele and a beard, and played both brilliantly.

I was sitting listening to Jam On Bread’s***** set, and I couldn’t help thinking: you know, his accent sounds a bit, well, Grimsbyish. Not really northern but not really southern, a bit flat and dull but with the full complement of vowels.****** But, of course, he couldn’t be: it might be a small world, but there’s no way that two stars of pop music, both from Grimsby, would both be playing gigs in Bristol on the same afternoon. And then: his lyrics mentioned that he wasn’t Swedish, because he was born in Grimsby. Gosh.

We didn’t get time to speak to Jam On Bread after the gig, so I didn’t have time to confirm his Grimsbyness face-to-face; but the internet seems to think it’s true. So: we did get to see a top Grimsby-born indiepop star this weekend, after all. It just wasn’t the one we’d been expecting to see when the weekend started. I think we might well have seen the best one, though.

* one of the country’s shortest steam railways, and hence in need of the donations. It will, if ever finished, be notable for being the country’s straightest steam railway, a good ten miles long and with utterly no curves. At present it runs for about a quarter of a mile, but it does have a somersault signal, which is obviously a plus point.** I should point out that Pete Green’s song does largely blame Richard Beeching for the line’s original closure: in reality it didn’t shut down until 1970, whereas Beeching was sacked from the British Railways Board in ’65.

** I believe they built it with spare parts bought from the Ffestiniog after the abandonment of that railway’s mechanical Tanygrisiau resignalling scheme, but I could be wrong. If any LWR or Ffestiniog people who know better read this, feel free to correct me.

*** easily dated from the railway carriages featured, if we’d got a better look at it

**** No, really, it does; although it would take rather more space to explain why. Maybe that will be a blog post for next week some time.

***** His real name is Steve Carlton, or at least, that’s what it says on the Internet

****** To be contrasted with the nearby Hull accent, which only uses one vowel. “E hed e slerce ef terst, smerked e feg, end went dern the rerd”

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Photo Post Of The Week

In which we have history in words, and archaeology in pictures


Over on the bookshelves – not the bookshelf I talked about the othe day – is an interesting little local book, by an artist called Cleo Broda. It’s called Symes Avenue: Building On The Past, and it’s about the rebuilding of the centre of Hartcliffe, and the ways in which public art was involved in the rebuilding; particularly, community art which celebrates the area’s history.*

Hartcliffe doesn’t have a particularly long history: it was built from scratch in the 1950s and – typically for a 1950s council estate – was shiny and sparkling for the first few years, but decayed. By the time the term “social exclusion” came along, Hartcliffe was a prime example; so the 2000s plan to knock down the old, mostly boarded up shopping street and replace it with a new supermarket and community centre was definitely a Good Thing. The book concentrates on efforts to preserve memories of the estate, record oral histories of its origins, and generally recapture the optimism felt when it was first founded.

Quotes from the oral histories collected during the project fill the cover of the book. Reading through them, I noticed one in particular:

The stone circles at Stanton Drew are three miles from here as the crow flies

I’d heard of Stanton Drew, at some point in my education. And I knew that Hartcliffe was right out at the edge of the countryside. So – look, I’m finally getting to the point – one day, we went out there. To take photos of the stones.

Standing stone, Stanton Drew stone circles Tree, Stanton DrewRecumbent stone, Stanton Drew
Standing Stones, Stanton Drew Standing stone, Stanton Drew Standing stones, Stanton Drew

Partly, it’s the road network that does it. There are no good roads north from there; only the road east-west from Pensford to Chew Magna. If you want to try to head up into Hartcliffe or Bishopsworth, you have to try your luck on the narrow and twisty country lanes. There’s no sign that the sprawling council blocks are only just over the hill.

* if you want a copy, I believe they can be picked up for free from Hartcliffe Library for as long as the print run lasts.

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Speed

In which FP drives sensibly


People round here often say: ooh, I don’t like going down to London. I’d hate to drive down there. It’s terrible. It’s so bad to drive around London. All the drivers round there are such bad drivers.

And I say: “hah”. Because I’ve driven round London,* and not had any problems with other people’s driving. I’ve driven round here – a lot more, obviously – and I can hardly go on a car trip without something making me go: “what the hell are they doing?”

In the past 24 hours I’ve driven about 25 miles in total. In that time I’ve had four people overtake me because they’ve thought I’ve been driving too slowly. That is: I’ve been driving at 60mph, on a narrow twisty country road. I drive at 60mph down it, because I know it well; I know where the bends are, where my lines of sight are, and how fast I can go and still be able to stop on sight. And I get overtaken by people zooming past me at 90-ish. On the road past the office, which is an urban road, I drive down it at 30mph and get overtaken by people doing about 50.

Now, no doubt these people would claim they’re very good drivers, and therefore it’s entirely safe for them to drive like that. This is, frankly, bollocks. It’s never safe to drive at 90mph down a twisty country road with a couple of farms along it. These people are living proof of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the more incompetent a person is, the more likely they are to overestimate their skill.

That’s fine when it involves things that don’t concern me. But when I’m driving to work every day, and meeting these idiots every few miles, it bothers me. I don’t want to end up in a ditch, because of your rudeness, idiocy, or misjudgement. If you pass me at 90mph, keep on going – because when you impale yourself on a 20mph ploughshare in half a mile, I want to have plenty of distance between us.

* although no further in than Zone 2; Mile End or Clapham Junction

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Landscape

In which people rarely realise just how man-made our countryside is


On the radio this morning, in between interminable political stuff: a piece about conservation, and particularly about conserving a hay meadow near Cambridge. I’m not sure what was particularly important about this specific meadow – I was too busy driving to listen properly – but I did pick up the presenter waffling on about the natural landscape.

The meadow is next to a major road. “You can hear the traffic on the A14 behind me,” the presenter said, “showing just how we’re encroaching on natural landscapes like this.”

Which is utter and complete nonsense! A meadow is, frankly, about as unnatural a landscape as you can get. It’s entirely as unnatural as, say, Langham Place in central London. I’m glad the conservationist she was interviewing didn’t agree; presumably he knew better. There is a general impression people have, that if we let the land revert to a “natural landscape”, it would end up looking something like a Constable painting; it’s entirely false, and that’s exactly why landscapes such as traditional hay meadows have to be carefully managed if we want to preserve them.

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Village idiot

In which we try to escape from the yokels


Off on another kissogram-escorting job last weekend. We had a booking in Marthwaite Hill, a little village overlooking Wooldale.

When I was younger, I had one particular type of recurring dream which I found slightly disturbing. It would involve setting off on a journey but never reaching the destination, because the road would get narrower and I’d get more and more lost as the dream went on. And that’s pretty much what reaching Marthwaite Hill is like. We turned off the main road, onto a country lane which went up into the moors, twisting and forking, until eventually we reached a little cluster of houses lodged on the edge of a high hill,* with half the county spread out below.

We trundled slowly up and down the village street – there is only one – looking for the Working Men’s Club. We passed a reasonable-looking pub, and approached a run-down looking building with a small patch of rocky wasteground for a car park. “I hope that’s not it,” said Kissogram Girl.

That was, of course, it.

We were supposedly there for a stag do – but the lad in question looked to be about fifteen. There was no sort of party going on, as far as you would notice, just a typical crowd of people drinking and playing pool. The lad was a drunken tosser, who wouldn’t do what he was told. The crowd wasn’t impressed by the performance, either. “Can I have a word, mate,” one of them said to me. “Is that all we get? Is that all we get for what we paid? Is that it? We’re expecting a bit more than that, mate.”

“Sorry, mate,” I said, trying to work out how many of them were between us and the door, “we don’t set the price.” He tried to get some more of the crowd interested in arguing with me, but fortunately none of them felt like starting anything. We stalked out of the building as quickly as we could, without trying to make it look obvious, hoping like hell that none of them followed us back to the car. And we didn’t look back, just headed straight back to the A-road and didn’t look back until we’d returned to civilisation.

* I checked on an OS map later – the village is on the 1200ft contour

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