Walking a Fine Line : Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

On Saturday I did something that I had long hoped to do and that was to walk along the narrow path beside the Llangollen Canal over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I first heard about this huge feat of Georgian construction (1795-1805) on a school Geography field trip to North Wales exactly 50 years ago. We were travelling from Norwich to Snowdonia and as we passed along the Dee Valley on the A5 through Llangollen Mr Powell told us about the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

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Hebden to Sowerby along The Rochdale Canal


sowerby to hebden

My friend Keith, one of the Weekday Wanderers, recently joined The Canal and River Trust the charity that recently replaced the British Waterways Board to take charge of the canals and waterways and are ‘entrusted to care for 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales’. As part of his membership he received a free copy of a bespoke Canal & River Trust edition of ‘Cool Canals’ Walks book.

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Just Walkin’ the Dog in Belsize Park and Blue Plaque Land

Until Saturday the weather had been atrocious and we have been walking out in the wet and wind which is not conducive to photo-taking. But then the weather changed. The sun came out and the sky turned blue and I have managed to capture some local landmarks here in the Swiss Cottage/Belsize Park area of northwest London.

belsize Village

Belsize Village Square

Here is the local “Banksy” but it isn’t a Banksy – read all about it here.


Make Tea not War in Belsize Village

Fire Station

Even the local Fire Station is an Arts and Crafts building. It closed down last year. I expect it will be converted into apartments.

Primrose Hill

Then along with the world and his wife we headed for Primrose Hill summit to study the view, watch the kites and rub noses with other dogs (the dog, not me!).

Primrose Hill view

It’s a pretty impressive view when you get up there.

Regents Park Road

Regents Park Road

One of my favourite streets in London Regents Park Road has everything : bookshop, dress shop, cafes and restaurants, interiors and fabrics shops, bread and patisserie shops and delis. I also heard a lot of French being spoken so seems to be popular with French families.

Engels House

Friedrich Engels [1820-1895], political philosopher, lived here (122 Regents Park Road) from 1870 to 1894

St Mark's Crescent

Two neighbouring plaques in St Mark’s Crescent

On the right, number  11, (pale yellow house) lived Arthur Hugh Clough [1819-1861], poet and author of Persephone Books reprint “Amours de Voyages” from 1854-1859. And in the pale blue painted house with the plaque lived the historian and broadcaster A.J.P. Taylor [1906-1990] from 1955 to 1978. Next door, at the dark grey painted house number 14, is the plaque commemorating William Roberts [1895-1980], artist, who lived, worked and died here 1946-1980.

Regents Canal 2

The Regents Canal

Regents Canal 1

The Regents Canal

23 Fitzroy Road

23 Fitzroy Road, the green painted house near the middle of this row, was the home of W.B. Yeats [1865-1939] Irish dramatist and poet. It was also the house where, on 11 February 1963, the American poet and novelist Sylvia Plath [1932-1963] apparently took her own life. There is no plaque to explain this. Her plaque is attached to the nearby house at 3, Chalcot Square where she had lived from 1960 to 1961.

War Memorial Primrose Hill

War Memorial by St Mary’s R.C. Church, Primrose Hill

Swiss Cottage

And here is Ye Olde Swiss Cottage itself

The Battle of Tewkesbury: The Bloody (Muddy) Meadow

32 St Mary’s Lane

32 SM Lane

Last weekend, to break my journey between South Wales and home in Leeds, I stayed in the lovely old town of Tewkesbury. 32 St Mary’s Lane is tucked away between the main road through town and the River Avon. Beyond the river is a large expanse of flat, grassy land called Severn Ham (‘Q’ mentions it in his poem ‘Upon Eckington Bridge‘) bordered on the other side by the River Severn. The two rivers meet at Tewkesbury and it’s liable to flooding sometimes in summer.

Severn Ham

River Avon and Severn Ham

Beyond the main road, on the other side, is the great edifice of Tewkesbury Abbey which dominates the town in the nicest of ways.

Tewkesbury Abbey

The house in St Mary’s Lane was formerly a framework stocking-knitter’s home dating back to the 17th century. The row of cottages, of which no. 32 is one, were in a parlous state by the 1970s and The Landmark Trust stepped in to help a local conservation group who were unable to raise the funds required to restore the houses. No. 32 only joined Landmark’s collection of properties to let in 1982.

32 Kitchen

Welcome to St Mary’s Lane : The Kitchen

SML Sitting room

The First Floor Sitting Room

It’s a lovely warm and comfy house on 4 floors each of the upper floors accessed via steep, narrow, twisting staircases; but you soon get used to them! On the ground floor is the kitchen and a cloakroom (and there’s a backyard with picnic table for the summer months), on the first floor is the sitting room, above that is a bedroom and a bathroom and on the fourth floor is another bedroom with magnificent view of the Abbey through one tiny window.

upstairs day view

The Abbey from the Top Bedroom – by day

32 upstairs window

The Abbey from the Top Bedroom – by night

In fact there is another Landmark Trust property in Tewkesbury – The Abbey Gatehouse.

The abbey gatehouse

To Battle!


The Battlefield Trail at Tewkesbury (photo)

On Sunday morning, having found a Battle Trail leaflet at the house, I decided to leave its cosy confines and venture out into the cold, windy fields on the edge of Tewkesbury to discover the location of The Bloody Meadow – scene of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 between the House of York and the House of Lancaster saw the death of 2000 soldiers, including Edward, Prince of Wales, who was just 18 years old. It was a defining battle of the Wars of the Roses.

Tewkesbury Abbey

Tewkesbury Abbey from The Battle Trail

Crossing the main road and taking Gander Lane behind the Abbey I soon found the first Battle Trail sign. It was easy to follow and well-waymarked BUT there were some very very muddy parts and at one point I was unable to reach the exit gate from the Bloody Meadow due to two rather frisky-looking ponies. I had to take a detour, give them a wide berth and climb over a fence. There’s an information panel at the Meadow itself and towards the end of the trail is a monument to the town recording important events in the history of Tewkesbury.

Battle Trail

The Bloody Meadow

The Bloody (and muddy) Meadow

Info Board

Muddy Field

Horses and Mud block the Trail

Tewkesbury Monument

The Tewkesbury Monument and Abbey at the end of the Trail

Close-up of panel

Close-up of the Monument

Tea at Lock Cottage

I was pleased to get back to St Mary’s Lane for a wash and brush-up before heading up the M5 to partake of afternoon tea with Landmarking friends who just happened to be staying at Lock Cottage which lies between locks 31 and 32 of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

Lock Cottage

I have to concur with the comment in Lock Cottage Log (Visitors) Book, namely, that “Sitting in the cottage with a cup of tea and watching the boats go by is infinitely preferable to jumping on and off a boat watching the cottages go by.”

Herengracht Life

Before the weekend just past I was last in Amsterdam in the late 1960s when it was all hippy and flower power and full of people sleeping rough and doing I don’t know what. I was on a cycling holiday and staying in a Youth Hostel outside the city by the Zuyderzee. I was not impressed by Amsterdam and couldn’t wait to get back to Broek in Waterland.

My previous impression of the city has been totally overturned. I love it! And I especially love the area where I stayed with my 2 Swiss friends. Our Dutch friend has a lovely flat nearby too. Of course, this Amsterdam canal ring is now, not surprisingly, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our B&B was at 21 Herengracht in one of those so picturesque 17th century canalside houses of which Amsterdam is famous but which I didn’t even notice on my previous visit. Loes, our host, explained about the plan of the house – the narrow canal frontage was because the houses were taxed according to their width, the house is really 2 buildings linked by a covered passage (some houses still retain this tiny courtyard) – our duplex apartment on the second and third floors was reached by a very very narrow spiral staircase and situated in the ‘servants’ house at the rear of the building.

Courtyard within the house links the front with the rear building.

Rooftops of Amsterdam from our rear window.

Entrance lobby with obligatory bike!

Within 5 minutes walk of the Centraal Station, past the multi-storey bike park, the Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht in this part of town are an oasis of calm and seemed totally tourist-free and almost totally car free. The bikes however could have proved hazardous – but we soon learned to look out behind us and step back onto the narrow pavement as we heard a tinkling bell approach.

Houseboat garden with sculptures!

Of course, the folk of Amsterdam don’t just live in these picturesque houses by the canals, they also live in houseboats on the canals. Due to housing shortages in the 1960s and 1970s living in houseboats here was positively encouraged by the city council.

I’ve written about whaling here before. My friend’s flat on the Keizersgracht is situated on the ground floor of a 17th century whaling house [Walvissenhuis]. That is why the shutters have ‘Groenland’ written on them.

It was so relaxing to meet up at the Cafe Papeneiland at 2 Prinsengracht (right in the middle of the picture). It is a typical Bruin Cafe whose walls have turned brown from generations of cigarette smoke of the local regulars who meet here at all hours.

I can’t wait for another taste of Herengracht life!

Good Things in Ghent : Music, Art and Good Company

I have been in the Low Countries for a few days and in particular in Ghent and in Amsterdam. As mentioned in a previous post here I have a lovely set of friends made through my online Reading Group. One happens to live in Brussels just now and another found herself travelling to Belgium with her choir. At just the same time I had a couple of spare days before a long-planned trip to Amsterdam. So what could be easier and more enjoyable than to bring forward my flight, book a train from Schiphol to Brussels and spend a day with these two friends? A kind invitation to stay in Brussels proved impossible to resist and thus I found myself last Wednesday in both rain and shine in the interesting city of Ghent.

There was much chatter, some eating and drinking and quite a lot of walking during the day. Ghent has some lovely old buildings especially those Guild houses overlooking the canals and some huge churches.

Het Gravensteen Castle, Ghent

The two highlights were a visit to St Baafs Cathedral, where we spent over half an hour inspecting Jan Van Eyck’s “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” in the Baptistry. The amazingly vivid colours are only a part of this exquisite multi-panelled treasure of Ghent. Included in the entry price is an excellent audio-guide explaining not only the symbols, characters and settings represented in the painting but also its fascinating history. One panel was actually stolen on the night of 10/11 April 1934. That panel has never been recovered. It is quite remarkable that this huge and complex altar piece has survived until today. Read more about it here.

The Baroque Pulpit in St Baaf’s Cathedral

The second event was attendance at a concert during the afternoon at St Pieter’s church, about a 15 minute walk from the city centre. The Valentine Singers from London were performing 3 concerts in Ghent (including one in St Baaf’s Cathedral). Interestingly Ghent was appointed Unesco City of Music in 2009.

It was great to see and hear our friend in performance as we have long known about her musical career. The varied concert of church-related songs included a beautiful canon “Praise God” by Thomas Tallis and other songs by English composers – including Purcell and Elgar. There were works by Schubert, Bruckner, Saint-Saens and others and some Negro spirituals. We joined a fair-sized and very enthusiastic audience but even a full house would have looked minuscule in this vast Ghent church.

The Valentine Singers prepare their next piece in St Pieter’s Church, Ghent

All too soon the good things in Ghent came to an end and the two of us returned to Brussels.

As with many of our “meets” this one also produced further ideas worthy of investigation and upon which we may centre future meetings.

Walking The Huddersfield Narrow Canal

About once a year we each volunteer to lead the other Weekday Wanderers on one of our monthly hikes. My choice of walk usually involves  something more than just pleasant green paths, nice views and heart-failure-inducing climbs – although I love these too! (Well, not the actual climbs, but the resultant views and feelings of achievement). For some time simmering on the back-burner  has been my idea of using public transport and doing an end-to-end walk as opposed to a circular one. With my interest in historical geography and since I heard about its re-opening about 10 years ago I’ve been wanting to plan a walk along the towpath beside The Huddersfield Narrow Canal. My chance finally arrived yesterday when I did a practice run for my ‘turn’ to lead in April.

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was originally opened back in 1811 at the time of the great expansion of transport by waterways across England. The Canal runs for 20 miles between Huddersfield to the east of the Pennines and Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire to the west. This was no mean feat of engineering. Some facts from the website state :

“The summit of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is the highest navigable waterway in Britain.
Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is Britain’s longest canal tunnel.
The canal has a total of 74 locks. It connects end on with the Ashton Canal and the Huddersfield Broad Canal.”

I travelled by train via Leeds and Huddersfield to one of the furthermost stations in Yorkshire – Marsden. Alighting at Marsden I chose to walk back up the canal, as far as one may go on this side of the Pennines in fact. About half a mile from Marsden is the Standedge Tunnel entrance and Tunnel End. Here there’s a Visitor Centre and the starting point in summer of public tours into the Standedge Tunnel in glass-roofed narrow boats.

Tunnel End

Tunnel End Visitor Centre and glass-topped tour boats

The tunnel being 3 miles long and with no towpath for a horse to pull the boat it was down to men to do their own “legging” to get the boat from Yorkshire into Lancashire or vice versa. These days the tour boats are hauled into the tunnel by electric tug boats.

It’s about seven and a half miles from the Standedge  (pronounced Stannige) Tunnel down to the centre of Huddersfield and this section also includes more than 40 locks. Yesterday the walk was very peaceful. There were no boats on the canal but I hope there will be more ‘action’ on our April visit. Each narrow lock area has its own number and character and it was intriguing to look down into the depths of the lock itself.

There are stretches of shady wooded paths, paths past green fields and reservoirs, past old out-of-operation mills, past mills now converted to a multitude of innovative uses such as The Titanic Mill (below) opened in 1912 and named for the ill-fated liner launched in the same year now a luxury hotel, spa and apartment building …

… and through small towns like Slaithwaite (pronounced Slawit) where we popped into the irresistible Slaithwaite Bakery, noted the pretty Moonraker Floating Tearoom, saw the only working guillotine lock gate in the country and ate our sandwiches under shadow of the towering Globe Mill between the canal and the main street.

At Lock 4E you are diverted away from the canal as it passes under buildings in Huddersfield. The Pennine Waterways website provides a useful map and directions to get you back on track for the last section to where the Huddersfield Narrow joins the Huddersfield Broad Canal at Aspley Marina. Reaching the town and feeling the solid pavement under my feet I felt ready to hunt out the station and start for my journey home.

Poster seen on an unoccupied shop building in Huddersfield town centre