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A holiday on the edge – Welsh/English borders

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My main holiday this year – the longest one that I go on with my parents in late May/early June this year – is kind of difficult to summarise. We were looking to visit the Black Country/Cotswolds but due to the lack of success in finding any holiday houses that met our requirements in those areas then went for a cottage near New Radnor, just over the border in Wales. As our holiday last year was based not far away in Brecon then this was an unprecedented return to the same area but in actual fact it proved to be a great choice and we covered a lot of ground and most of the places we went were new ground for me. This filled in a lot of gaps in the epic map of my life’s travels in Great Britain – particularly Herefordshire, South-East Shropshire and West Worcestershire. Worcestershire was a particularly pleasing addition, as apart from a long-forgotten trip along part of the M5 many years ago, I had never seen the county at all and certainly hadn’t stopped anywhere within it. Herefordshire is pretty much complete, as we took many different roads across it to reach other places. While it was only a very quick visit to each place, this will prove very useful for me to identify places worthy of a further visit – particularly to appreciate some of the region’s pubs, as there was a bit of a Wetherspoon’s overdose for reasons out of my control.

New Radnor itself is a very small village but has an unexpectedly splendid monument, to Sir George Cornewall Lewis, who was an MP in the area and an important cabinet minister in the mid 1800s. It is to the south-east of the beautifully-bleak Radnor Forest mountains that force the A44 to take a significant detour to the south. This makes it easy to spot in a road atlas. This part of Wales is beautiful but not very well known compared to the more touristy areas of Wales such as the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. The Radnor Forest mountains are up to 600 m high and the most distinctive is ‘The Whimble’.

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

An example of the scenic beauty around New Radnor

Saturday 30 May

We left bright and early so as to make the most of the day and stop en-route in some places along the way. As it only takes four hours or so then we only needed to stop once between Hampshire and Herefordshire. We had a brief stop at one of our usual spots – the viewpoint at Birdlip (just SE of Gloucester). This gives stunning views across Gloucestershire towards Wales, Herefordshire and Worcestershire.

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

The view West towards Gloucestershire and beyond from the viewpoint at Birdlip, near Gloucester

After negotiating the Gloucester bypass, we headed up the A417 to Leominster. We had dinner in Wetherspoons there and a brief look around the town, which is very pleasant. We then headed north up to Ludlow, which is a very pleasant little town in Shropshire where most of the buildings date back to the Tudor era and there are some interesting but rather expensive shops, as well as numerous ancient pubs, with The Feathers probably being the most famous. We had a look round a market, with one stall selling nothing but old cameras, hundreds of them! Nearby is a very attractive castle.

Leominster

Leominster

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

The famous Feathers Hotel, Ludlow – one of not many British pubs that have their own Wikipedia article!

Ancient buildings in Ludlow.

Ancient buildings in Ludlow

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

The grounds of Ludlow Castle

After that it was time to head to our holiday cottage near New Radnor, which we travelled to via Knighton but the A49 immediately North of Ludlow was closed immediately before where we wanted to turn off so we had to find a diversion, which went through the middle of a golf course.

White House Cottage is one of three adjacent cottages rented out as self-catering holiday accommodation by the same owner but it was very luxurious, boasting an enormous garden, and a separate lounge (with the TV/sofas etc) and a pleasant sunny room to sit during the afternoon. However, the most remarkable thing was the Games Room, which contained a pool/snooker table (pub size) and dartboard as well. Me and my dad used this every day although sadly our skills left much to be desired!

Games room at White House Cottage.

Games room at White House Cottage.

My bedroom - with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

My bedroom – with the luxury of a four-poster bed!

White House Cottage

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Sunday 31 May

We took it easy on Sunday, just visiting our nearest big town (Hereford; actually a city!) for lunch and a visit to an unusual Tesco supermarket that had a car park hidden in a grim basement. We had a look at some of Hereford’s shops but didn’t stop long as we visited it last year. In the evening, I had a brief walk down the lane to ascertain where the footpaths to the mountains behind our cottage began but I accidentally trod on an inch-long thorn and it penetrated my foot but luckily it was not very deep.

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Hereford Cathedral (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford's Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

A striking 50s/60s building near Hereford’s Wetherspoons (NOTE: this is cheating as I took this picture last year!)

Monday 1 June

The weather forecast was grim but we visited Bridgnorth (in Shropshire) anyway, which is not a place I would have thought of going but I had obviously not done my research on this as it is a very pleasant and attractive town, being separated in two by the steep hill that rises above the River Severn. There is a cliff railway/funicular here; unusual in being inland as these are usually only found at seaside resorts. Sadly we did not get time to ride this but the weather was pretty wet so it may well have been a waste of time anyway. We tried to visit the Severn Valley Railway station; one of the most impressive and authentic preserved railways in the UK; however it cost £3 to park and we only wanted to stop and look round the shop/museum (if there is one) so we didn’t bother.

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth Cliff Railway

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Bridgnorth and the River Severn

Tuesday 2 June

It was a very blustery day but fortunately it wasn’t as rainy as the forecast threatened so we stuck to main roads away from smaller places where trees might have blown down and blocked roads. We followed the A44 all the way from New Radnor to Worcester; this was exciting for me as my first proper visit to Worcestershire. The county town (actually another city!) seemed surprisingly larger than Hereford but boasted another nice cathedral and a lot of shops, as well as a very grand guildhall. However, some of these county towns are much of a muchness in terms of things to see, particularly when paying a very brief visit.

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Guildhall

Worcester Cathedral

Worcester Cathedral

Wednesday 3 June

The weather was much more agreeable today so we went on our only trip West of the week, this time along the A44 again in the opposite direction to Aberystwyth. While I’ve visited the seaside resort once before, that was when we were staying 20 miles to the North in Tywyn so approached it from the north then – and was nearly 20 years ago anyway – how time flies! I thought the route along the A44 would be quite nice but was astonished to see how beautiful it actually is; some of the vistas rival those in Scotland, with winding roads with a sheer drop to one side along forested valleys. This part of Wales appears to be largely uncelebrated, in not being in a National Park or even an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). If that scenery was in England then it probably would be an AONB but I guess Wales has so much splendid terrain that all of it can’t be.

Aberystwyth itself is a seaside resort with all the usual attractions – promenade, amusements, a pier (sadly truncated by storm damage) and even a cliff railway, which (like one of the ones in Hastings) doesn’t go anywhere apart from a hilltop viewpoint, although I guess that likewise offers great views. The resort was battered by severe storms in early 2014 but it appears that all the damage has been repaired now.

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

Aberystwyth seafront (North end)

We had to park near the station but that proved a useful decision, as the Wetherspoons was actually inside the station, under the canopy (it probably replaced a station cafe of some sort). This location was also useful as we had a look at the Vale of Rheidol station, one of the most scenic preserved railways in the country.

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Aberystwyth

I was surprised with how narrow the gauge is of this, but it was operated by BR until relatively recently. Unfortunately the original station site was redeveloped into a retail park, with the current station being rebuilt further East of this. We later managed to park for a brief look/photo shoot at the southern end of the Marine Parade, which offered nice views as well.

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (and pier)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

Aberystwyth seafront (south section)

On the way back, we took the scenic A4120 back East, which goes via Devil’s Bridge. This is the other end of the preserved railway but is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the areas, with the steep valley being bridged by three bridges of different eras, each on top of the previous one. There are also some lovely waterfalls to see here.

Devil's Bridge

Devil’s Bridge

In the evening, I was able to start my mission of reaching the top of the mountains behind the cottage, as the weather was more suitable for the novice and unprepared hiker that I am (having hung up proper walking boots a long time ago after being disenfranchised by the local ramblers club in the late 2000s probably). The walk to the bottom was surprisingly hardly muddy at all and I was soon able to reach the heath/forested area near the top, with a very steep ravine to the right, one of several very deep ravines that penetrate the central ‘rock dome’ of the Radnor Forest. The term ‘forest’ is misleading here, as much of it is open heathland; ‘forest’ originally described an area that was open for hunting.

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Nearing the top of the mountains, the terrain gives way to this lightly forested ground and upland heath

Near the top was a large metal farm shed; one of the highest I’ve seen. Sadly, ‘The Whimble’ is inaccessible due to being private land. Luckily, the area surrounding it is open access land (according to my trusty OS Explorer Map) so I walked NE across the open moors. Much of the inner parts of the mountains is off limits due to being a ‘Danger Area’. The signs suggest it is a ‘Rifle Range’ but apparently it is used for testing somewhat more substantial ammo!

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest's most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

The Whimble, one of the Radnor Forest’s most recognisable hills is sadly all fenced off and inaccessible.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

Up the top of the mountains is this huge plateau of heathland about 600 m above sea level.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

The view East on the way down from the mountain top.

Thursday 4 June

This was the nicest day of the week in terms of the sunny weather and so we had a trip to Great Malvern (in Worcestershire but close to the Herefordshire border). This spa town is part of the general area known just as ‘Malvern’ but Great Malvern is by far the most significant town. The area is known for its bottled drinking water as well. The main street is very steep but the top boasts superb views to the East. If I had more time I would have climbed the hill above the town but an early finish to the day’s outing allowed me to have another walk up the mountain behind the cottage.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Great Malvern, at the top of a steep hill down to the park.

Stunning views from great Malvern's elevated position

Stunning views from Great Malvern’s elevated position

I had to make the same hike up to the top but at least I knew where the paths were this time. On reaching the top, I headed West between the Whimble and another rocky outcrop as I wanted to see the valley there but was stunned on how bleak it actually was. Both sides of the valley had steep ravines with little vegetation and it was rather windswept but I followed the path by the Whimble to the south and ended up back in the copse halfway up the mountain before making my way back to the cottage.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

The bleakness of the Radnor Forest hills facing West. The Whimble is out of sight to the immediate left.

Part of a ravine near the summit of The Whimble. DFown below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the 'Danger Area'.

Part of a ravine near the top of the mountains. The summit of the hill ‘Black Mixen’ is out of sight beyond the hilltop. Down below in the valley (and well out of sight) is the ‘Danger Area’.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are very flat and barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

The top of the mountain near the Whimble. The whole of the Radnor hills at this altitude are rather barren, with just heathland for miles on end.

Friday 5 June

Sadly, our last proper day of the holiday had arrived but we took another trip East to Worcestershire, this time to Kidderminster. The town itself is nothing special; it boasts a very Brutalist car park and shopping centre called the Swan Centre – the ugly sister to Eastleigh’s younger shopping centre! I was pleased to see that an old Victorian mill building with a prominent brick chimney had been converted to a Premier Inn and Debenhams department store rather than being bulldozed like many of these endangered industrial buildings. However, the main attraction is another Severn Valley Railway station – the other end of the line from Bridgnorth. This station looks very authentic as an early 20th century terminus, even with old shops such as WH Smith. It is regularly used for filming historical TV dramas/films. There is also a great museum, which is free! This contains a lot of ‘Railwayana’ such as locomotive nameplates but also some great working exhibits, such as an electromechanical telephone exchange, with several different vintage phone handsets (I have a fetish for these it seems!) and a set of signalbox levers that I had a go at using to see how they are mechanically interlocked (to prevent the potential for an accident if levers are moved that could cause danger).

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

Kidderminster Town station

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster's railway museum

An old telephone exchange at Kidderminster’s railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster's railway museum

Signalling levers at Kidderminster’s railway museum

On the way back, we went via Clee Hill, one of the most notabvle hills in SW Shropshire. The views were stunning!

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

Clee Hill Common, Shropshire.

In the afternoon I was intending to have a walk to the end of one of the nearby ravines but the supposedly public footpath has been stopped up with ‘No unauthorised persons beyond this point’ signs on the gates and a large industrial scale agricultural enterprise of some kind. Fortunately, the second part of my walk was more fruitful (literally), as I had heard about a cider farm just ten minutes’ walk from the cottage! Ralph’s Cider produces traditional cider and perry from apples grown on or near the farm and has ‘The only licensed cider house in Wales’ although I sadly didn’t have time to stop for a pint in there; however, they were happy to let me taste a sample of each of their products before I bought some fresh out of the barrel in plastic bottles to take home!

Ralph's Cider and perry; the real thing!

Ralph’s Cider and perry; the real thing!

Here’s a map (in two parts) showing all the routes we covered.

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – West section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 - East section

A map showing all the roads travelled and places visited on my holiday in May/June 2015 – East section

 

 

Berlin 2015 – day four (26 March 2015)

It was raining this morning so I decided to check out the German Museum of Technology. I thought they may have the odd camera or projector but I was absolutely delighted with that section of the museum as they had a whole floor devoted to photo cameras and the floor above to moving picture projectors and cameras, both amateur and professional.

An old wooden process camera, used for graphic reproduction.

An old wooden process camera, used for graphic reproduction.

Photographic equipment, note the photo in the background of a large process camera.

Photographic equipment, note the photo in the background of a large process camera.

8mm cine film editors, used by many budding directors to cut and splice film.

8mm cine film editors, used by many budding directors to cut and splice film.

A seelction of cine cameras and projectors, mostly 8 mm. There is also a large tape deck; the only way to have sound in home movies before the advent of the Super 8 format was to use one of these machines. There were even various gadgets to synchronise film and sound.

A seelction of cine cameras and projectors, mostly 8 mm. There is also a large tape deck; the only way to have sound in home movies before the advent of the Super 8 format was to use one of these machines. There were even various gadgets to synchronise film and sound.

A Eumig P8 and Bolex Paillard 18-5 cine projectors (for 8 mm standard 8 film). I have both of these in my own collection and they are highly regarded.

A Eumig P8 and Bolex Paillard 18-5 cine projectors (for 8 mm standard 8 film). I have both of these in my own collection and they are highly regarded.

There was also, in the museum, a 1960s TV studio setup, with all the camera and editing technology on show, and several old electromechanical computers. Sadly, my time had ran out by then so I was only able to have a very fleeting glance at the rest of the museum. There is easily enough to see to take up an entire day!

1960s black and white TV studio equipment.

1960s black and white TV studio equipment.

German rocket technology!

German rocket technology!

After a brief drink in an Irish pub, I headed on to the Fernsehenturm. Although the visibility was poor, I would have regretted not tsaking the opportunity to go up it. Fortunately, my fear of heights was almost completely nullified by the fact that the viewing gallery was completely indoors.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete 'wings' evoking a spirit of excitement.

The space age architecture of the building at the base of the Fernsehenturm is stunning, with the concrete ‘wings’ evoking a spirit of excitement.

Viewing gallery in the Fernshenturm. There is a revolving restaurant on the floor above but it is by reservation only.

Viewing gallery in the Fernshenturm. There is a revolving restaurant on the floor above but it is by reservation only.

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing south

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing south

 

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing east

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing east

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing west

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing west

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing SE

View from the Fernsehenturm, facing SE

Finally, I returned to Gatwick via Berlin Schönefeld airport, whiling away my time in the terminal in an Irish pub with a Bratwurst.

Berlin 2015 – day three (25 March 2015)

Today’s plan was to cover the western extents of the city centre so I got the U-Bahn to the furthest west place of interest. This was Schloss Charlottenburg, a former royal palace.

Schloss Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg

After that, I decided to walk along Berlin’s main shopping street, Kurfurstendamm. It was a long and rather unrewarding walk south to this but the shopping street itself contained the international designer brand shops that are ubiquitous in most major cities. At the top (north-eastern end) of this street was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. This got bombed during WWII and only the main tower remains. A replacement church was built in the 1960s and it is a concrete waffle-like frame containing small fragments of stained glass. The interior looks stunning. A bell tower constructed from the same frame (being smaller in plan but a lot higher) is on the other side of the original tower; however, it is currently clad in scaffolding.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

 

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Near the Kaiser Wilhelm church is a small shopping centre that looks unchanged since the 1970s. Inside this was a café where I had slices of gammon and chips of potato (kartoffel chips). I then went in KaDeWe, Berlin’s most famous department store and one of the largest in Europe. The lower floors contained the usual expensive handbags/perfumes etc but on the top floor was a true gastronomic paradise. The food hall contains dozens of counters, all of which seem to have a bar. Each food department has several of these counters. There is meat, fish, cheeses, chocolate, cakes, sweets but unlike a supermarket, these products are served for eating in the shop rather than just being for home consumption.

Food hall at the KaDeWe department store

Food hall at the KaDeWe department store

The next place on my list was the Tiergarten, a massive park (like Hyde Park in London). However, the walk there seemed to go on for miles. On arriving at the Siegessäule monument, the walk to Brandenburg Gate looked an enormous distance away. I was after some refreshment and was most annoyed to see that the café was closed, having negotiated several labyrinthine subways and pedestrian crossings to get there. The offer from a rickshaw rider of a lift to the Brandenburg Gate was one I gladly accepted, despite being fleeced of my change. Like the beggars at Checkpoint Charlie, some of these people give them all a bad name by making them all seem suspect.

Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten

Siegessäule (Victory Column), Tiergarten

My exploration out west was thus complete, although there were a few places outside the immediate city, such as Potsdam, (and its surrounding lakes)  and Spandau. I headed back into the Eastern Bloc via the U-Bahn/S-Bahn and got off at Wernaucher Straße . Here is one of Berlin’s alternative areas (Friedrichsain) and is also home to the Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin’s most iconic bridges and a key border crossing of the cold war years. Nearby is a stretch of the river with the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall next to it, although there is a strip of land between the wall and the river that is used as a beach in the warmer months. Despite Berlin being such a long way from the sea, the soil appears to be quite sandy anyway. I first had a drink in a vaguely pirate-themed restaurant that had sand and palm trees in its beer garden.

Garden at the Pirates bar/restaurant, near Warschauer Straße.

Garden at the Pirates bar/restaurant, near Warschauer Straße.

I then followed the longwest remainign section of the Berlin Wall, known as the East Side Gallery, where various graffiti artists have decorated it. Of course, if anyone tried to do that 40 years ago then they’d probably have been shot! I then headed to my next destination via Ostbahnhof and the U-Bahn.

Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin's most famous bridges

Oberbaumbrücke, one of Berlin’s most famous bridges

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery. This longest remaining section of the wall has been decorated as a work of art.

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery. This longest remaining section of the wall has been decorated as a work of art.

Berlin Wall, part of the East Side Gallery.

Park and ‘beach’ facing Oberbaumbrücke. The East Side Gallery (part of the Berlin Wall) is on the far left.

Park next to the Berlin Wall. The shoprt section of wall on the right shows a cross-section of it.

Park next to the Berlin Wall. The shoprt section of wall on the right shows a cross-section of it.

Tempelhof Airport was in use until 2xxx but has been closed ever since. The airfield has been given to the people of Berlin as an open space, which is very popular for all sorts of activities, from picnicking to kite-flying. However, the terminal building was of more interest to me. This is a vast brick edifice shaped like a crescent and unlike most airports buildings, it includes all the hangars in the main building. While parts of the building are used by organisations such as the police, and aviation-related industries, the main terminal has been left as it is.

Tempelhof airport's main terminal entrance.

Tempelhof airport’s main terminal entrance.

Tempelhof Airport's vast terminal building.

Tempelhof Airport’s vast terminal building.

Tempelhof Airport

Tempelhof Airport

On the runway at the former Tempelhof airfield. Everything has been left in place as a massive open space for Berliners to enjoy.

On the runway at the former Tempelhof airfield. Everything has been left in place as a massive open space for Berliners to enjoy.

In the evening, I decided to head to Friedrichsain. Simon Dach Straße is packed full of bars and restaurants, ranging from posh eateries to ordinary pubs. I decided to start with Paul’s Rock Eck, which was (as the name suggests) a rock pub. This was very English, particularly in terms of the drinks available on draught. Next up was The Himmelreich, which is a gay bar and 2-for1 drinks was great. Finally was Kptn A Muller, recommended by a beer guide. It was kind of quirky.

Berlin 2015 – day one and two (23-24 March 2015)

Day one – Monday 23 March 2015

I flew out from Gatwick at 12:20 pm after taking the train from Southampton to Gatwick, via Horsham. I didn’t realise it went that way – I thought it went to the Brighton junction and turned north. At Gatwick, the South terminal, which is very impressive inside, is like a vast shopping mall with food and drink outlets as well, not dissimilar to West Quay. Luckily there was a Wetherspoon’s although even that was expensive!

The flight itself was in largely good weather, although there was some cloud here and there obstructing the view. The approach to Berlin was really interesting, as I could see all the lakes and forests surrounding the city.

 

Approaching Berlin

Approaching Berlin

Compared to Gatwick, Berlin Schonefield Airport was surprisingly modest. None of the usual vast retail space that you get with most of the airports that I have been to. I got the S-Bahn to Hermannplatz then the U-Bahn to Kottbusser Tor. Not the nearest metro stop to where I was staying but the next one along the line. I walked south and over the canal to near Schönleinstraβe station where I went in a local-looking pub – Bei Schlawinchen. This was a baptism of fire as it was full of bearded men drinking tankards of beer and smoking (yes, it’s not illegal in Germany). However, it wasn’t hostile and I would have gone back in there given the time, as it was the sort of place I was looking for rather than the gentrified touristy pubs in the city centre.

After checking into my room, which was within an art gallery and had some very retro furniture, I went for a walk to see if a nearby Biergarten was open but, not surprisingly given it was a Monday night in March, it wasn’t, so I went to Das Hotel, a lovely dimly-lit and quirky place where the staff were friendly and welcoming. I walked down to the lower end of Kottbusser Damm seeking more bars but all I found was a sports bar that was a cross between a betting shop and a pub. Finally, I bought some bottled beer in the off-licence that was literally next door to the entrance to my lodgings and had a pint in the pub/restaurant (“The Bird”) next door on the other side.

My room for the trip to Berlin

My room for the trip to Berlin

Day two – Tuesday 24 March 2015

I started this morning by getting the U-Bahn from Schönleinstraβe to Hallesches Tor and I walked due north along Friedrichstraβe to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most high profile border crossings between East and West Germany. Here, the East German border was to the north of the checkpoint and West Germany to the south. While it originally had a hut like the one pictured, it was actually upgraded over the nearly three decades it was in place so by the time the wall fell in 1989, it was a ten-lane checkpoint. I looked at an outdoor exhibition about the checkpoint, which was very interesting although spoiled by beggars collecting money “for the disabled”. If that is actually what they are collecting for then that is fine; however, I suspect this is an act designed to trick tourists. Before going to Checkpoint Charlie, I had a look at (from the outside) the Jewish Museum, which was fairly imposing.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin's most infamous border crossings.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin’s most infamous border crossings.

After posing at Checkpoint Charlie for a photo with a guy dressed up as a US soldier, with a US flag, I continued my journey North and found a Kamps Bäckerei cafe, which offered a reasonable lunch so after stopping for some coffee and getting some essential sustenance, came to the expensive part of town, where the posh shops are (global brands such as Gucci, H&M, Timberland etc). I was amused about the fact that this part of town was in East Germany; the former Soviet leaders with an anti-capitalist agenda would be turning in their grave!

One of Berlin's finer churches.

One of Berlin’s finer churches.

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

I then backtracked south to Unter den Linden, the grand avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate (known as Brandenburger Tor in German). This is probably Berlins’s most famous landmark and like Checkpoint Charlie, a key border crossing between the east and west parts of Berlin. I managed to get a map at last from the adjacent tourist information centre. I have plenty of maps in a book back at my apartment but I only have a rucksack or nothing to carry it in so a pocket-sized map was very useful. Particularly as my mobile ran out of juice about the same time.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

 

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing east.

To the south of the Brandenburg gate, and where part of the Berlin Wall was is a large plaza full of stone slabs; this is a memorial to the Jews murdered in Europe. It felt very strange thinking that these atrocities took place here only 70 years ago. I then went in a bar and had a stein of lager. This was a strange place as there were no toilets and it was about a 50 metre walk along the road to get to the public loos, although the bar did give me a ticket to pay for the entrance fee.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

After that, I went south to Potsdamer Platz, where part of the Berlin Wall used to be but now home to some high-rise office buildings. One of the most prestigious of which is the Sony Centre, which contains the Museum of Film and Television. I went in here and it was worth the admission fee.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

Berlin's main library. I'm not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

Berlin’s main library. I’m not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

In the evening, I went to Alexanderplatz and saw the Fernsehenturm (TV tower) for the first time. I then walked south via a restaurant where I had a beer but was the only customer and then Das Meisterstück, a gastro-pub that had an extensive selection of bottled beers.
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Norfolk 2013

Saturday 1 June 2013

Our holiday started on Saturday 1 June 2013 and our first stop en-route was one of our regular watering holes at Oxford North services on the A34 – now known as ‘Peartree Services‘. Some superb Waitrose wine gums were bought here and provided a much-welcome companion to a fairly dull journey.

After that, we stopped at Milton Keynes, at a large Tesco supermarket – a far better choice than service stations with their overpriced shops and limited stock.

Our penultimate stop was in Cambridge –  a lovely city but with an expensive car park. We had dinner in Wetherspoon’s (The Regal), which was nice, and then looked around some of the sights, including the Mathematical Bridge and King’s College. Outside the latter there was a litter bin with a man busking inside. Random.

Cambridge - a classic view of the 'Mathematical Bridge'.

Cambridge – a classic view of the ‘Mathematical Bridge’.

Cambridge, with King's College on the left

Cambridge, with King’s College on the left

Our final quick stop was to kill time before we could access our holiday house and was in Wroxham. This is the only place in the country I have came across where the whole village’s shops are owned and ran by one company – ‘Roys of Wroxham‘. There is a department store, pharmacy, clothes shops,  toy shops, DIY shop, garden centre and the Food Hall – a supermarket that although independently-owned by Roys, is part of the Nisa group of grocers.

Roys of Wroxham, virtually the only retailer in the village! The 'Food Hall' is on the left with the the department store building on the right.

Roys of Wroxham, virtually the only retailer in the village! The ‘Food Hall’ is on the left with the the department store building on the right.

The holiday house, on the north-western extent of Hoveton (Wroxham), is  a lovely and recently-refurbished 1960s chalet-style house. It has two bedrooms on the ground floor and a larger bedroom upstairs that takes over the whole upper floor (or at least the parts that are high enough to stand in).

Villiers Villa - our holiday house

Villiers Villa – our holiday house

 

My room!

My room!

The ground floor has an unusual feature – a ‘Garden Room’. This sits between the lounge and garden, like a conservatory, but its only entrance is from the outside. So when sitting in the lounge, the light comes through the windows in the Garden Room rather than from outside. Apart from the unusual duvets with no buttons/poppers at the end, the house is very nice.

The Garden Room. That carpet looks strangely familiar...

The Garden Room. That carpet looks strangely familiar…

In the evening, I had a brief walk to check out the area around Wroxham’s waterfront, and this was pleasant enough, although there is only one pub but lots of takeaways.

Wroxham

Wroxham

Sunday 2 June

We started off this morning by heading north towards Cromer, a relatively-pleasant although slightly down-at-heel seaside town on the North Norfolk coast. Although the town is famed for its crabs, it was most notable to me for the Arctic north-easterly winds that made walking around it a struggle.

Cromer

Cromer

Cromer

Cromer

Its nearby neighbour Sheringham is slightly more genteel and has some pleasant shops on the way towards a beach. It is dominated by its two railway stations – the original National Rail station  (a branch line from Norwich) and the very authentically-restored North Norfolk Railway station, which is a preserved railway now.

Sheringham beach

Sheringham beach

Sheringham station

Sheringham station

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Sheringham’s old signalbox and postbox

We had dinner in The Whiffler, a Wetherspoons pub on the Norwich outer ring road and then did our shopping in the nearby ASDA. The car park is on a hill and very confusingly laid out. What is of more interest is the sports centre building next door, which has a very unusual series of barrel-vaulted concrete shell roofs and also a square dome. The latter in particular evoked fond memories of the former Ordnance Survey canteen, which had a much smaller version of that design.

In the evening, I had a short walk ‘around the block’ so to speak and had to contend with a footpath that had been partly obliterated by the construction of a lot of new houses – presumably on ‘green-field’ land.

Monday 3 June

This morning, we headed towards Great Yarmouth. However, we first stopped briefly in Horning, undoubtedly one of the most scenic villages in the Norfolk Broads.

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Horning

Great Yarmouth is a traditional seaside resort that is the closest contender to Blackpool I have found, in terms of being vulgar. It is arguably most famous for the one and a half piers that were owned by the racist, sexist and homophobic so-called comedian Jim Davidson but have since been sold – even if he owned the pier theatres then people still shunned his act – which is as anachronistic as Bernard Manning and the Black and white Minstrel Show.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth has an excellent selection of seaside staples, such as numerous amusement arcades, including one with Prize Bingo (these are becoming increasingly rare), shops that sell CDs of country music/traditional Irish songs (which are played loudly on repeat in the shops), fish and chip shops and tacky gift shops, the best of which is Tickle’s joke shop, the height of vulgarity, featuring an anamatronic of a man throwing up into an oil drum outside! Inside are such delights as fake turds.

Tickles joke shop

Tickles joke shop

Great Yarmouth and the Britannia Pier

I had a good dinner at the Britannia chippy and then played prize bingo briefly on the seafront.

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

On the way back, we stopped briefly at Tesco in Sprowston (on the north-east edge of Norwich).

In the evening, I took a long walk west, heading for the next village along the River Bure. Coltishall was a very pleasant surprise, with its lawns gently sloping towards places on the river where boats can be moored; adjacent to this was the Rising Sun pub, and sitting outside there, with its garden right next to the river was very pleasant indeed; and it was rather a tranquil setting.

Coltishall and the Rising Sun pub

Coltishall and the Rising Sun pub

 

Coltishall

Coltishall

Coltishall, view from the Rising Sun pub garden

Coltishall, view from the Rising Sun pub garden

 

On the way back, I decided to go on the main road so as to try a different route than the one I had arrived by. Unfortunately, it had literally been resurfaced a few hours before (and had only just been re-opened to the public)so had some very sticky tar and loose chippings all the way back to Wroxham station.

Tuesday 4 June

We started off in Norwich today. Once we had navigated the very confusing one-way system to find the car park, which was under the very impressive recent culture building called The Forum, we had a look around the shops and the market; a particular highlight was a TV memorabilia shop, where they had Merlin action figures and T-shirts – I didn’t realise such things even existed! There was a massive new shopping centre development since the last time I visited and I was impressed by the amount of space devoted to shopping.

Norwich market

Norwich market

We had lunch in the Bell Hotel, another Wetherspoon’s pub, in Norwich city centre, just a stone’s throw from Norwich Castle.

Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle

In the afternoon, we parked in Wroxham itself and hired a boat from Fineway– we used them on our previous visit and so they were our first choice this time. We hired a motor boat for two hours and had a nice cruise – this part of the Norfolk broads has a speed limit of no more than 5 mph so we went along the River Bure and only got as far as Horning, but we did go off the river into two of the broads (these are like small lakes connected to the river by channels). The broads were Wroxham Broad and (the much smaller) Salhouse Broad.

In the driving seat

In the driving seat

Messing about on the river

Messing about on the river

My Dad at the helm

My Dad at the helm

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The boat

The boat

In the evening, I went to check out the only remaining pub in Wroxham (I think there were at least two others that have closed relatively recently). The King’s Head is a surprisingly large and very food-led pub, boasting a popular carvery. They had three ales, although none of them were of particularly interest. I didn’t spend long in the pub itself – as it backs onto the river next to Wroxham bridge so it would have been a shame not to sit outsode. Sadly, it was a bit windswept and the hope of seeing visiting ducks and geese was not satisfied by a large crowd of adolescent pigeons that were breaking up what looked like a rock-hard bread roll into pieces small enough to fit into their beaks. Then there were some sparrows, which were a bit more of a rarity.

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The King’s Head, Wroxham

Sparrow at the King's Head

Sparrow at the King’s Head

Wednesday 5 June

This morning, we headed towards the North Norfolk coast, on the picturesque A149 road through villages such as Blakeney and Wells-Next the Sea. However, time was tight and we reached our destination, King’s Lynn in time for lunch at the Globe Hotel, another Wetherspoons pub.

King's Lynn market square

King’s Lynn market square

On the way back, we stopped at Hunstanton, which I was pleasantly surprised by in terms of its features as a seaside resort. The journey back to Wroxham, inland this time, seemed to take a very long time.

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Hunstanton

Bingo in Hunstanton

Bingo in Hunstanton, a very 60s example of seaside architecture

Thursday 6 June

One of the nicest places on the Norfolk Broads was our main destination today. Horsey Windpump is ideally situated between the pleasant sheltered lake of Horsey Mere and the Norfolk coast.While the windpump itself is very interesting, and is a great place to park because of its toilets, shop and cafe, our intention this time was to head east towards the coast.

Horsey wind pump

Horsey wind pump

The sea is approximately a mile from the car park and goes across some very low-lying agricultural land. This is protected by a massive sea defence feature, consisting of a continuous bank of sand dunes with occasional concrete gaps that can be quickly stopped up if bad weather is threatened.

Walk towards the beach at Horsey

Walk towards the beach at Horsey

The beach is famed for the seal population that is regularly spotted there and there were two seals in the sea and very close to the land – we could see their heads in the water. Sadly they didn’t come ashore but it was still great to see them at all, as they can be somewhat elusive and wary of humans.

The beach at Horsey

The beach at Horsey

Horsey beach

Horsey beach

We had lunch in The Whiffler again, and much to my annoyance, their Wi-Fi wasn’t working. However, my boredom was quelled by a short walk to the ASDA that is virtually next door. This was a very frustrating experience as a pedestrian, due to the poorly-designed car park and approach roads.

Later in the day, I went for a long walk to another nearby village – Neatishead. While not as picturesque as Coltishall, it had a nice traditional pub called the White Horse.

Friday 7 June

We headed east again today – to Sea Palling, which is a small and pleasant seaside village near Horsey.

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling beach

Sea Palling

Sea Palling

We then continued onto Horsey itself and parked at the windpump once more. This time, we had a pleasant walk in the nature reserve round Horsey Mere.

Boats at Horsey Mere

Boats at Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere and wind pump

Horsey Mere and wind pump

Boats at Horsey

Boats at Horsey

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Horsey Mere

Next, we had a look around Ranworth; another pleasant village in the north-central area of the Norfolk Broads.

Ranworth

Ranworth

Ranworth

Ranworth

Afterwards we had lunch in The Whiffler again; however, fortunately, the Wi-Fi had been repaired.

Finally, I paid a visit to the Kings Head.

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The King’s Head, Wroxham

The King's Head, Wroxham

The King’s Head, Wroxham

 

And finally…

Our holiday house

Our holiday house

This is the lounge...

This is the lounge…

 

The garden, although it was a bit too cold and windy to have a Barbie.

The garden, although it was a bit too cold and windy to have a Barbie.

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Coastal walk 8 September 2012

Faced with the prospect of a sunny weekend, perhaps the last one of this year’s poor summer, and no particular place to go, I racked my brain for some outdoor pursuits so I didn’t stay in all day and feel guilty for wasting the nice weather. The seaside would be nice but can’t go too far, saving my pennies. Bournemouth? Nah that’ll be heaving. In the end, a look at my trusty OS Explorer Map brought about the idea of filling some gaps in my conquering the Solent Way along the east coast of Southampton Water. Every August, when I take the ferry from Southampton to Cowes, I notice the unusual golden-coloured cliffs between Warsash and Hill Head. I was very familiar with most of that area but the Warsash to Hill Head section was completely unexplored.

So, I took the no 4 bus from Southampton to Warsash, noticing on the way the free Wi-Fi on board (which I discovered by accident in attempting to get my laptop to connect via my mobile) and, more significantly, that the Crow’s Nest pub has been demolished. This was a large suburban pub and a landmark at the top of the hill on the main A27 through Bursledon. A place that I enjoyed many karaoke nights a few years ago. It was one of those pubs that made it into bus timetables, like the Target in Sholing was and I’m sure there were others.

Arrival in Warsash was marked by the sighting of an unusual pebbledash clock tower.

The pebbledash clock tower of Warsash

The walk itself is fairly unremarkable at first, going across heathland and marshes, and is marked by a lot of massive houses and a large Brutalist building of some kind, I presume it is part of the sailing college that’s in Warsash. Most of the views are dominated by Fawley Refinery and Calshot Power Station; the latter in particular seems to muscle in on nearly every photo. The walk was surprisingly quiet, apart from people walking their dogs and their children, and eager twitchers.

Dog walkers and children; an occupational hazard for adventurers like myself.

The remains of gun emplacements like this are common along this part of the coast.

Coastal path near Warsash

A bit further on those elusive cliffs appear and I was surprised to find cliffs like that in the otherwise-very-flat surrounding area. They are golden in colour rather than chalk or granite, most unusual. The best thing of all was that there was not another soul as far as the eye could see. There is no way down from the top of the cliffs for most of their length and it felt like being somewhere very remote; an oasis of tranquillity in the otherwise-hectic Solent conurbation.

The golden cliffs!

The cliffs

The next leg of the walk brought me into the middle of an unusual settlement that consisted entirely of small wooden single-storey chalets. Nearly all of the shacks had a wind turbine on the roof; perhaps it was a self-sufficient community? The only place it reminds me of is Dungeness, which has similar small shacks but those are spread out much more sparsely. This brought me back into the familiar territory of Titchfield Haven, which gets the twitchers very twitchy but I don’t have the patience for such pursuits. The place hasn’t changed a bit. The small marina round the corner was inhabited by a load of Mallard ducks making laughing noises, perhaps jealous of all the attention the twitchers are paying to other birds.

Titchfield Haven chalets

My good self (!) at Hill Head

This concrete wall at Hill Head protects the nature reserve and provides a nice walkway for kids.

It was over four miles and not a drop of fluid had passed my lips so I went into the Osbourne View, a massive gastro-pub with an enormous garden adjacent to the beach – nice. A cold pint of Stowford Press went down like a treat, although I was very tempted by the Tanglefoot and Fursty Ferret ales (I used to drink those a lot in Isobar last year). Adjacent to the pub was a very modern new house, something that Frank Lloyd-Wright and Le Corbusier would have been proud of. It goes without saying that you’d have to be seriously rich to live on top of the cliffs with those views.

Aren’t I clever? Both the Osbourne View AND the modern house in the same shot. Two for the price of one.

Put off by the pub prices for food (£2.95 for a bowl of chips?!), I continued onwards, past a long row of beach huts (and it was fascinating to see how each hut occupant had personalised their small space) and came across a seaside caf like I was hoping to find. Sausage and chips for £1.50, that’s more like it! ‘The Shack’, at the northern extent of the Marine Parade road is the name of the place. Highly recommended.

A graveyard for elderly hovercrafts, like Concorde, that high-speed dream never took off (pardon the pun)

I continued along the seafront at Lee-on-the-Solent, past giant aircraft hangars and giant mothballed hovercrafts, past the playground where the lido used to be and to the main seafront (next to the amusements where the station used to be). Lee-on-the-Solent and Art Deco architecture have some interesting links. There used to be a wonderful Art Deco lido but every trace of it to the smallest detail was destroyed to make way for a kids’ playground. There used to be an Art Deco tower next to the station as well, and that was also destroyed. I’ve always loved the Art Deco shops (in the parade where the famous Bluebird Café is) and fortunately, they are still there.

Fab Art Deco shops in Lee-on-the-Solent

It became apparent that Lee-on-the-Solent is very bereft of any pubs in that main shopping area and on the seafront. The only one I know of is the Old Ship. I went in here for another drink, and noted that the food prices were more reasonable here although I had already eaten. There didn’t appear to be a gents’ toilet anywhere; they must have hidden it well. There’s no shortage of public WCs along the coast path though, although some of them are probably of a dubious nature.

After Lee-on-Solent, the landscape changes dramatically, and gives way to gravelly heathland, part of the MOD training camp at Browndown. The MOD seems to own half of the Gosport peninsula but this part is open for the public to walk through. The only signs of its military use are the badly-broken remains of concrete walls about 2 metres thick and a large concrete mushroom (which on further inspection was some kind of ventilation shaft).

Browndown beach, MOD-owned land

Onwards to Stokes Bay, familiar territory again and the beach here was fairly popular; not surprising given the weather and making the most of it. After Stokes Bay was Gilkicker Point and rounding this felt like I was onto the home straight. Not far to go now…that was until the coast path came to a very abrubt stop, with a fence topped with rolls of barbed wire going far out into the sea, and no indication of where the path went. I couldn’t be bothered to get the map out of my rucksack so I thought I’d follow the perimeter of the fence until I got back to the sea. This meant going across a golf course and then back onto a very suburban road. This eventually led to the car park I remember next to the prison. I thought the aforementioned fence surrounded the prison but my map says it is ‘Fort Monckton’, the prison being the other side of the car park.

Gilkicker Point

It is rare to see The Solent that blue (near Haslar)!

I continued along the coast path from the prison (now known as an ‘Immigrant Removal Centre’) and passed the large Haslar hospital; not sure whether this has closed yet or not; I know there were plans to close it. It’s very big and very Victorian. After this, the path once again came to an abrubt halt, this time with padlocked gates adorned with razor wire. I had to retrace my steps and eventually found the road between the Haslar hospital on one side and whatever the top-secret Qinetiq site is on the other. I’ve been to Gosport many times but I don’t think I have ever been to that part of it. A sort walk over Haslar Bridge and past those tower blocks with the fab 60s mosaic murals on brought me to Gosport bus station, very weary!

 

Haslar hospital

Tower blocks in Gosport. These two have became quite an iconic landmark, with their groovy 60s mosaic artwork and rooftop observation decks.