Seven Days in Newfoundland – Days 4 – 6

It was time to pack our bags and head to the Bonavista peninsula for three nights in a most beautiful place.  The rain rained and the wind blew but also the sun shone and we had a great time.  The Eriksen guest house in Trinity was to be our base.  It had one special feature that we came to love, the large communal sitting-room.  This was shared by the occupants of the six bedrooms on the upper floor.  We got to know some super fellow guests, all Canadian or, in one case, long term immigrants from the UK.

The guest house did evening meals and we dined there on our first night but for the other two nights we went to the Dock Marina Restaurant on the waterfront with some of our fellow travellers.  The Dock Marina was more café style than restaurant with its gingham tablecloths and rambling menu.  Whether you had one course or umpteen course or even just a drink, was up to you..  On both nights we ate the national dish of cod.  It was prepared in many different styles to suit every palate.  Our favourites were the traditional deep fried cod fillets (1,2,3 to suit) and cod au gratin, baked in a white sauce and topped with melted cheese.

On the first visit there were six of us and a good time was had by all but on the second night there was just ourselves and our new found (in Newfoundland!!) friends Peter and Eirian from Calgary in Alberta.  Our waitress turned out to have been hired to run the business side of affairs and the accounts but also liked to work at the sharp end.  Weren’t we lucky.  We were the last guests of the evening and we heard people who were already eating mildly complaining that some dishes were not available.  When two of our party asked for cod au gratin, one of the dishes off the menu, the waitress said “don’t worry I’ll get the chef to make some fresh”.  And so she did.  Whether it was because we had travelled so far or because she took a liking to us is anyone’s guess.

Each time she came to our table she told us, unprompted, another bit about her background and life in Trinity.  It was all fascinating. She had had a child at 17, the relationship with the father deepened and they married. That first baby, a daughter, had her own first child at 17 a few years ago. So we were listening to a grandmother, under forty, whose compelling storytelling was riveting. Along the way she and her husband had acquired qualifications, a good home and a close relationship with their children and grandchild – essentially they were all young together. We all agreed that we had never encountered such glowing contentment.

The Skerwink Trail is a relatively short trail but is one of the most dramatic I’ve been on, if you discount the Cuillin Ridge on Skye which is way beyond my capabilities nowadays.  It’s a relatively short walk and starts tamely across level terrain and into woodland.  Underfoot, the path is very well maintained and way-marking is clear.  After a short distance the path forks.  To the right it indicates an inland variation whilst to the left it says “caution” and hints at high cliffs.  We took the latter.  And within less than a minute, suddenly, there’s a small break in the trees and we’re standing right on top of a sheer 100 metre cliff looking down on a number of sea stacks.  Amazing.

The rock of Newfoundland is largely sedimentary sandstone giving a general flatness to the whole island.  However, at Skerwink Head, the rock has been shifted through 90⁰ and the result is massive slabs of rock pointing skywards.  The Atlantic gales have then done their work eroding the rock and leaving numerous sea stacks and the cliffs.  Most of the headland is covered in conifers and general scrub.  The trees are mature but the constant high winds keep their heights low, typically under 5 metres.

The path skimmed the cliff edge with regular breaks in the trees to get close to the drops.  Some of the gaps had bench seats so you could sit and marvel at the rock formations.  Where the path climbed or descended over bluffs wooden steps had been laid.  And each tread had wire mesh to improve grip in the near constant damp conditions.  This may sound too severely regimented but it was really justified.  Without the clear path the surface would become dangerously eroded, especially so close to the big drops.

After about 4km the trail then descended steeply with steps to a pebble beach.  By now there was a steady drizzle and it was quite cold, definitely only in single figures centigrade.  After a short walk through more open terrain, we were glad to get back to the car and some shelter. What a magnificent walk, only about 5km but with regular stops to enjoy and marvel at the scenery, it took a bit over 2 hours.

Our next stop was to see another lighthouse, Fort Point.  The lighthouse was very visible from Trinity village and we had seen it in the distance from the second half of the Skerwink Trail.  Trinity has a number of sheltered bays all guarded by a long spit of land and together they form one of largest natural harbours in Newfoundland.  Itinerant British cod fishing fleets started to operate from the bays in the 16th century. On Trinity Sunday 1615 the First Court of Admiralty was formally established and the name of Trinity was adopted.  In the middle of the 18th century, a fort was built to protect the British interests and later on, in the middle of the 19th century, the lighthouse was built on the same site.

The next day our travels took us northwards up the Bonavista peninsula for about 50km to the most northerly point at Cape Bonavista just beyond the town of Bonavista.  It was a lovely day though the breeze was quite chilly.  You are constantly reminded that the next landmass to the north is Greenland and the Arctic.  In a couple of months’ time the ocean will start to freeze over.

The Cape Lighthouse was open for visitors.  There is a small museum which covered the early history including a fascinating Scottish connection.  The original lanterns and reflectors had come from the Bell Rock Lighthouse which guards the entrance to the Firth of Tay and that was designed by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.  A few years later these were augmented by the lanterns and reflectors of another famous Scottish lighthouse, the Isle of May, which guards the approaches to the Firth of Forth.  To keep the Scottish connection going, we were shown around the lighthouse by a lady who hailed from Paisley in Scotland.  The accommodation for the keepers was built as a series of rooms on two storeys round the cylindrical structure of the column supporting the lanterns and reflectors.  Everything had been lovingly restored to as near the original as possible.

Close to the lighthouse is a memorial to John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) who landed there in 1497 and reportedly gave the area the name Bona Vista – Beautiful View.  The memorial takes the form of a large statue of the man himself looking out over the, to him, new found land.  This led us back to the town where a life-size replica of his boat, The Matthew, is housed in a purpose built museum.  The replica was built in Bristol, England, just like the original, and sailed the Atlantic to Bonavista to repeat Cabot’s original voyage.  The boat arrived on the 24th June 1997, the 500th anniversary of the first landing.  The event was considered so significant that none other than Queen Elizabeth II was there to lead the celebrations.  Standing on the deck of the boat it is incredible to imagine sailing the wild Atlantic in such a small vessel.

For lunch we dined at Neil’s Yard, not to be confused with or maybe indeed to be confused with, Neal’s Yard the natural food shop in Covent Garden, London.  The owner of Neil’s Yard originated from London and acknowledged a bit of plagiarism.  Whatever, the food was simple but excellent and very reasonably priced.

The last visit of the day was to a very different museum in the nearby town of Ellison.  The town is scattered over low-lying land along the shoreline.  We were drawn towards a statue cum monument near the beach.  The poignant statue depicts two figures, a father and teenage son, Rueben and Albert John Crewe, embracing each other as they were found frozen together on the sea ice after an ill-fated sealing expedition.  The monument is a memorial to the scores of seamen who lost their lives in two separate disasters during one 1914 storm.

The nearby museum explains the whole disaster.  Essentially, sealers were taken out to the ice-flows and left to make their kills.  Sometime later the boats would return to pick them up.  That worked as well as it could in reasonable weather.  The story of the March 1914 storm is complex but the essential facts are that many sealers were abandoned to an icy grave due in part to the storm but also to the actions of the masters of the two main ships.  Most could have been rescued had it not been for bad decisions made those who could have helped.  In total, 251 sealers died.  Life was very harsh in Newfoundland in those days only 100 years ago.

The next day we said goodbye to Trinity and headed back to St John’s on the Trans-Canada Highway for about half the journey.  Then we turned off to visit a small seaside community with an unforgettable name.  Dildo was given its name by the great naval explorer Capt. Cook who thought that the rounded promontory that reached out into the bay resembled the aforementioned.

This wasn’t the only odd name we came across.  Newfoundland seems to revel in them.  Some examples we saw included Chance, Hearts Delight, Cupids, Pretty Street, Tickle Harbour, Country Road and Placentia.  Presumably most of these names were given in the 17th and 18th centuries as Newfoundland became populated.  However, one was definitely of modern invention.  “No Charge for the View B&B” was on Trinity Bay and had a most spectacular sea view.  A very clever name.

From Dildo we drove across a peninsula to Conception Bay and the small town of Brigus.  The reason for visiting here was that it was the birthplace of Capt. Bob Bartlett, sailor and Arctic explorer.  Bartlett had many claims to fame in his day.  These included the furthest North sailing, above 88⁰ N, and breaking the route through the ice to get the American Robert Peary to a point 150 miles from the North Pole.  Due to rivalries between the two men Bartlett was barred from travelling to the pole with Peary.  With over forty polar expeditions to his name, Bartlett was a real pioneer.  He led a number of journeys to rescue other expeditions that had become stranded in very inaccessible places including the members of the ill-fated Crocker Land Expedition, who had been stuck on the ice for four years.  He is largely an unsung hero outside of his native Newfoundland.

Back in St John’s we checked into the Rendell Shea Manor, the sister guest house of the Elizabeth Manor where we had stayed before.  The Rendell Shea was even more sumptuous.  We were taken to the Cape Spear Room on the top floor.  It was very large with the well-appointed en suite bathroom off a small private hallway.

For dinner we decided to walk down Cochrane Street from the guest house and then turn into the main street parallel to the harbour, Duckworth Street.  The first place to catch our eye was The Bagel Café.  Not an obvious choice for an evening meal but with a look at the menu and the busy crowd inside, we took a chance.  And it was a success.  Very friendly staff, a good choice of dishes, speedy service and an affordable bill.  What more could you ask for.

After the meal our next port of call had to be a bar for a nightcap or two.  As we were passing the lobby of a large bank, out came our friends from Trinity, Peter and Eirian.  What a coincidence.  They had the same idea as ourselves and were heading for an Irish pub, The Ship Pub, where they had read there would be live music.  Ideal.  We joined forces and headed back to Duckworth Street.  Seats were at a bit of a premium but we got a row of four near the back with a good view of the stage.  The music was good, mostly one singer who sang a mixture of folk, blues and rock.  A fine end to a busy day.

Tomorrow was to be our last day in Newfoundland.  We would have to make the most of it as  we didn’t know how long it would be before we returned.

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7 Days in Newfoundland – Days 1 – 3

Newfoundland is a very large island, about half the size of the whole of Britain or one and a half times the size of Ireland.  It lies in the Gulf of St Lawrence off the east coast of Canada.  The population is about half a million of which about two fifths live in or around the capital St John’s at the Atlantic end of the island.  For administrative purposes, Newfoundland is joined with Labrador which is the vast sub-Arctic and Arctic landmass that lies on the Canadian mainland to the north.  Only about 5% of the total population of the Province live in Labrador.  Newfoundland is pronounced by the locals as New Fund Land, three separate words.

These locals are officially called Newfoundlanders which is affectionately, but also sometimes insultingly, shortened to Newfies.  There is a small aboriginal population (First Nations, Metis, Inuit) but the vast majority either originate from other parts of North America or from the British Isles (England, Ireland and Scotland) split roughly 50/50.  English is the dominant language but their dialect could be described as a cross between Canadian English and Irish English and they speak at a rapid pace making understanding for non-natives sometimes very difficult.

“Welcome to The Rock”, said the lady at the Avis car rental desk in St John’s Airport.  She explained that that is what the locals call their homeland.  What she didn’t explain was how to get out of the airport complex.  It is currently undergoing major refurbishment including the replacement and realignment of the road system.  Along with a number of other rental customers we spent what seemed like ages going around and around trying to find the exit onto the main road system.

Our guest house had provided a comprehensive set of driving instructions to get us to our bed for the night, except that they had one small but crucial error mentioning going through three sets of lights on one stretch when it should have said one.  So, it was time to resort to satnav which got us there very quickly.  Earl, the proprietor, had emailed the code for the front door, so although it was after midnight, we were able to get inside.  In the vestibule there were large notices requiring us to remove our shoes before entering the hallway.  So our shoes joined the dozen or so other pairs lined up by the door.

Another notice informed us that our room, “Petty Harbour”, was on the third floor, right at the top of the building.  There was no lift, so getting our luggage upstairs was a bit of a trial.  The door to our room was open but there was no sign of the number for the keypad that locked the door.  This would have to fixed in the morning.  In the mean time we were seriously in need of some rest.

We had only planned the first two nights on the assumption that we could set off and explore Newfoundland, picking up B&B’s as we went along.  There was a notice in the room saying that Earl was happy to provide travel advice.  We decided to take advantage of the offer.

Newfoundland & Labrador has been doing some serious advertising in Canada on the delights of visiting the province.  It has worked.  People were flocking to “The Rock”.  We met people from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.  What this meant was that when we tried to book accommodation for our first night on the road, a Saturday, there was nothing available.

We called Earl and he came round from his other guest house just a few houses away.  He suggested that the destination we had chosen was much further away than we needed to go to get great sea scenery and walks.  Instead of Twillingate, some 450km distance and about 6 hours driving, we should try Trinity on the Bonavista Peninsula, some 200km distance and not much more than 2 ½ hours driving.  Getting an hotel for the Saturday night proved impossible in Trinity as well, still, there was a nice place that could take us from the Sunday night for three nights.  We booked it straightaway.  Earl said he could put us up for the Saturday night so that was fine.  The extra day in St John’s could be used for some out of town touring.

Within minutes of the hotel are two major historical buildings.  The first is Government House, built in the early 1800’s and first occupied in 1831, the home of the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland & Labrador.  It’s a rather grand house with extensive grounds and is used nowadays largely for ceremonial functions.  Normally, the public can see round, but it was closed so we had to be content with a walk round the outside.

The next building along the street is the Colonial Building, which was built to house the government of the colony from the mid 1800’s till 1948 when Newfoundland & Labrador became a province of Canada.  The government is now housed in a modern building, the Confederation Building, that we could see on the hillside a little further out from the city centre.  The Colonial Building has an impressive colonnaded front and a flight of steps extending across the whole front of the building all made of white limestone imported from Cork in Ireland.  The rest of the building was obscured by scaffolding for renovations.

Further along is the National Museum and Art Gallery of the province called The Rooms.  We started walking in the general direction but were working from a rather crude freebie map and couldn’t work out exactly where to go.  We were standing consulting the map when a car going in the opposite direction stopped in the middle of the busy city road and the driver asked if he could help.  Traffic started to build up behind him but no one was upset.  I said we were looking for “The Rooms”, as the building is called.  “Just keep walking, it’s on the right”.  We shouted our thank yous and, with a cheery wave, he moved on.  This episode really epitomised Newfoundlander friendliness and helpfulness.

The Rooms is a fine building opened in 2005 and made of granite, wood, aluminium and lots of glass.  It is the centre for cultural heritage in the province and houses a museum, art gallery, the National Archive and rooms for project work.  We focused our visit on the history of the island and its peoples.  Everything was so well presented and the detail so absorbing that we spent much longer there than planned.  There is also an excellent and popular restaurant on the top floor with superb views over St John’s Harbour and The Narrows, the short, natural channel that links the harbour to the Atlantic.  All the tables beside the picture windows were fully booked and you could see why.  We were happy for any table and ordered two big bowls of the chowder for which they are rightly famous.  For me, this was washed down with a bottle of local Iceberg beer.  Not any old beer, but a brew that uses melt water from passing icebergs.  It’s officially classed as a lager but to my mind it has many characteristics of a light pale ale.  Whatever, it became my drink of choice throughout our stay.

The dominant feature of St John’s is the harbour.  This is a perfect, natural place of shelter from the ravages of the Atlantic.  Until the 1990’s this would have been a scene of hundreds of fishing boats.  But no more.  Cod fishing had always been a major part of the economy but after the second world war the introduction of ever larger super-trawlers resulted in a massive increase in the number of fish landed.  The outcome of this greed and lack of government intervention was inevitable.  Suddenly, around 1990, the stocks rapidly decreased.  A ten-year moratorium was agreed in 1992 and cod fishing stopped.  It actually took till 2011 before cod stocks started to recover properly and now fishing is strictly controlled using small trawlers.

The fishing trawlers, now much reduced in size, can use other, smaller harbours.  St John’s Harbour today seems to be more a base for oil industry supply ships and cable laying ships.  It’s interesting in these days of satellite communications that the laying and maintaining of undersea cables is still a big industry.  In fact, satellites carry a very small percentage of the world’s communications traffic.  Undersea cable is far more reliable and can carry much more data at faster speeds.  Newfoundland is a terminating point for cables that form a worldwide network.  Although we didn’t see any during our visit, the harbour is now used regularly by cruise ships.

Venturing out of the city, we spent a day driving slowly down the coast from St John’s.  St John’s is in the region of Newfoundland known as Avalon.  The road that circuits the southern shores of Avalon is the Irish Loop or Route 10, named in honour of the thousands of Irish who emigrated to the province.  The road heads over forested moor land sprinkled with small lakes.  As we began to learn, this is very typical Newfoundland scenery.  After about twenty minutes we could see the sea appearing to our left and the road descended to the first community of Bay Bulls.  In the summer, especially during the whale season, Bay Bulls and the next bay, Witless Bay, are busy places for tourist boats going out to watch whales and sea birds.  That season was mostly over for this year.

We moved on with the road climbing out of each bay into the forest before descending to the next.  Our goal was La Manche Provincial Park.  The park stretches from a long, narrow channel cum harbour way inland.  On the banks of this channel a small fishing community was established around 1840.  Here are a few words about the demise and final tragedy, courtesy of the Provincial Park website.

In the mid-1960’s the community was under pressure to resettle into larger, nearby towns. The road leading to La Manche was difficult and expensive to maintain, particularly in the winter.  On January 25, 1966 a severe winter storm hit the east coast of the Avalon Peninsula. An enormous tide washed away all the flakes (waterfront platforms for drying cod), boats, anchors and stores of La Manche as well as the suspension bridge which connected both sides of the harbour. Most of the houses were demolished, miraculously there were no deaths attributed to the storm. The entire economy of the village was destroyed so the residents of La Manche agreed to be resettled by the provincial government.”

The ruins of the community have been maintained and the suspension bridge rebuilt as a memorial to the hard lives that people led as recently as fifty years ago.  A signpost indicates the point to leave the main highway and a dirt road leads to a car park.  From here a good trail leads down through woods for less than 2km to the ruins of the village where it joins the East Coast Trail that hugs the Avalon coastline.  All that is left of the village are the stone bases of the houses and the few timbers that weren’t wash away in 1966.  All very poignant.

We walked onto the suspension bridge and had the wonderful sight of two seals sunbathing on the rocks far below.  Following the East Coast Trail which travels northwards across the bridge, we reached the mouth of the La Manche inlet and had a great view along the coast and out into the Atlantic.  It was a lovely, warm, sunny day which made it hard to imagine the storm that destroyed these hardy people’s livelihoods.

Back in the car, our journey took us southwards to the township of Ferryland, an Anglicisation of the original French name of Forillon.  Ferryland was established in the 1600’s as a base for fishing fleets.  One visitor in those days was none other than Sir Walter Raleigh.  Nowadays this is a small community which has become an archaeological site, unearthing the history of the early occupations.  The Colony of Avalon at Ferryland is recognized as the best preserved early English colonial site in North America.  The museum and associated works were closed.

[as we discovered throughout the province, the majority of public sites close on Labour Day (early September) for the winter]

However, we could see a striking lighthouse on a spit of land that stretched out into the ocean.  We parked the car and set out on the 1km rough road to reach it.  The lighthouse is of typical Canadian Maritime style, a red painted stack with a white lantern on top and a red roof on top of that.  The lantern has been automated for some years but the lighthouse keeper’s accommodation has been put to a novel use to raise money for on-going maintenance.  It is now a kitchen specialising in picnics.  And these picnics are so popular that they have to booked in advance.  Today’s picnic had just finished, the guests were making their ways back to their cars.  It was nice to have the place to ourselves.

The headland around the lighthouse is great place for whale and bird watching in the spring and summer but now, apart from the odd seagull, the wildlife has started to migrate as winter approaches.  We were disappointed at the lack of whales but we still could enjoy the wonderful scenery and the walking.

Ferryland was as far south as we went.  Heading back to St John’s the first place we passed was Cape Broyle, a small township where every business seemed to owned by the Daltons.  Earlier we had stopped at Dalton’s Supermarket and bought coffee, buns, granola bars and fruit.  And also, we couldn’t resist buying some famous Scottish “Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers”.  How they came to be on sale in this remote part of the world is anyone’s guess.

Tomorrow we would start to explore further afield.

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Flying from Minneapolis to Newfoundland

 After a bit more than two weeks of great family time at our son’s new home in Minneapolis, the wanderlust called.  We travelled in two stages from Minneapolis St Paul’s (MSP) Airport to St John’s, the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador.  It was to be a long day, leaving the house at 6.45am and not arriving at our destination until after 10pm.  At least that was the plan but, as with many plans, things can go awry all too often on long journeys.

I’d read about horrendous queues at airport security in the US and MSP got regular mentions as one of the worst.  Oliver had warned that on his frequent business flights there had been many occasions where passing through security could take an hour or more.  So we were prepared for long queues and boredom.

Once in the terminal we went to the Delta Airlines check-in desk.  We were actually flying with the
Canadian airline WestJet but our flight to Toronto was a codeshare on a Delta Airlines aircraft.
  Check-in is mostly a self-service activity these days and so it proved to be with Delta.  It was all quite simple until we came to a bit where the system asked when we were leaving the country.  That seemed a strange question given we were preparing to board a flight that morning and leaving the US for Canada.  Fortunately help was at hand.  It turned out that the question was “when will you be leaving Canada?”.  Problem solved.  The check-in terminal then produced two boarding passes and the guy who had helped a few moments ago, appeared with two luggage tags, attached the to the bags and the process was over.  Total time from entering the terminal was ten minutes, maximum.  Pretty good.

Next, was the dreaded security fpr which we had allowed plenty of time.  Our boarding passes showed that we had been awarded “TSA Pre-Check” which means that we only need low-level scanning.  No idea why we were given this status but it was very welcome.  There were about six people ahead of us in the Pre-Check line and everything moved very quickly.  We weren’t required to remove liquids from our carry-on bags nor did we have to separate out our laptops and Kindles.  It was easy.  So, as with check-in, in a maximum of ten minutes we were airside and ready to go with oodles of time in hand.

A quick check on the departure screens showed that our flight was scheduled to depart on time, two hours away.  Plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast.  I recognised the name of one eating place, “Rock Bottom”.  They are a brewery chain that install micro-breweries in every outlet.  They’re a Milwaukee based business but we first came across them in Chicago and knew that they served good quality pub food.  Alcohol was not on our agenda so early in the day. 

Breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon and fried potatoes was served in giant portions.  Why is it
that everything has to be so big in America?
  So we struggled on washing the food down with orange juice and coffee.  A very satisfying breakfast and something that would definitely keep us going through the journey to Toronto.

Before heading to the gate, a quick check of the screens showed that our gate had changed and was now a long way from the main hall of the terminal where we were.  The shuttle train that normally services the distant gates was out of order so we walked travellator after travellator then miles of corridor until we reached the gate area.  Up to this point we didn’t have seats assigned but on asking the gate agent she said, if we wanted them, we could have emergency exit seats which come with much more legroom and at no extra cost.  A definite yes was said to that idea.

A short while later the flight was called and we boarded the narrow bodied commuter jet.  Once we were all in our seats one of the two flight attendants – stewardesses – came down the aisle and addressed the eight of us who were in the emergency exit seats.  “Do you understand the emergency procedures? I need a verbal from everyone individually.”  Then she pointed at each of us in turn and waited for us to say “Yes”.  Ordeal over and the plane could be pushed back from the air-bridge.

I had a window seat – Margaret prefers the aisle – and had a good view over the North American landscape.  The route took us over Wisconsin State, then Lake Michigan, Michigan State, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and the Canadian State of Ontario.  On a bit of a whim, I wondered if the satellite-based mapping system  in my phone worked while in the plane and with airplane mode switched on.  It did, perfectly.  So for the rest of the journey I was able to identify towns and rivers as we flew over them.

The plane landed twenty minutes early at Toronto Pearson International airport.  Normally that would sound great but for us it meant that our timetabled four-hour layover would now be extended.  On disembarking we had to go through Canadian immigration which was very straightforward.  Then it was baggage collection followed by customs and then rechecking our bags for the onward flight.  That used up the twenty minutes so we still had four hours to kill.

In an unfamiliar airport it is always a good idea to have some idea of where the departure gate is located and whether there are enough facilities there to meet your needs.  So off we set and what a good job we did.  After about two miles on travellators, we found ourselves at the top of one of the longest escalators in the world.  Then it was another set of travellators before coming to another escalator going upwards to the sky.  This deposited us in what must have been a satellite terminal.  Fortunately, it was well serviced with cafes, bars and restaurants.  We decided to stay there and got a table in a restaurant.

Nearing time for the flight, we wandered along to the gate only to discover that the flight was going to be delayed.  Although the aircraft was at the stand, we were told that the pilot was en route from Ottawa and his plane had been diverted to another airport.  Every fifteen minutes or so the gate agent announced the progress of our captain.  His plane was on the ground at Hamilton, Ontario.  His plane was last in a queue of seven for take-off.  His plane was in the air.  His plane was landing at Toronto.  He had disembarked and was being transported to the plane.  He was on the plane and doing his pre-flight checks.  The plane was ready for boarding.  Top marks for information, it made the delay less frustrating.

The flight took off one and a half hours late. We’d been on the ground for hours and hours.  Still we were now on the way to St John’s and Newfoundland.  WestJet have great cabin crew and they managed to make a routine airline food and drink service feel personal. I had a window seat again and was able to watch the ground passing below us.  The initial sight was Lake Ontario which we followed to the end of the water.  Then it was the St Lawrence River.  Unfortunately, the plane was passing through increasing cloud and night was beginning to fall.  When you are travelling eastwards, the day turns to night very quickly.

And then, just as it was getting a little boring, the plane started the descent to St John’s.  Adjusting our watches, etc, was a unique experience for us.  Newfoundland is three and a half hours behind GMT so our watches had to be advanced by one and a half hours. (Hope that makes sense!) The plane touched down about ninety minutes behind schedule.  It could have been worse.  However, it was now 11pm and once we’d got off the plane, picked up our bags and found the rental car it was going to be nearly midnight.  It was a good job that the Elizabeth Manor guesthouse we were booked in to, had a keypad entry system so we could get in at any time of the day or night.  It had been a very long day.  A bit of shuteye would be very, very welcome.


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Highway 61 Visited

Before the days of Interstates (motorways), the USA was criss-crossed by a series of long, long roads with their lengths measured in hundreds and even thousands of miles.  Probably the most famous is US 66 or Route 66 running from Chicago, Illinois to St Monica, California, a distance of nearly 2,500 miles.  US 61, more often called Highway 61, ran from New Orleans to the Canadian border, more or less due south – north and following the course of the Mississippi.  It was over 1,500 miles long when built but nowadays the route really only exists in relatively short, disconnected stretches.  It is suggested that the original route provided some inspiration for the great singer songwriter Bob Dylan.  It was the route that connected his homelands in the extreme north (Duluth, Minnesota) to the home of the Blues in the deep south. 

Being a lifelong Dylan fan and having been born in the same year as himself and being in Minnesota, a trip to Duluth was a must.  The chance to see the place where he came from and how it may have influenced his music was not to be missed.  So a two day, one night, trip was planned and on Thursday morning Margaret, myself and our son Oliver, set out northbound from Minneapolis on the interstate I35 interstate, which in these parts replaces the old Highway  61.

Our first stop was at Tobies Bakery in Hinckley at about the mid point of the journey.  It is, I have read, a required stop for anyone driving between the Twin Cities of St Pauls – Minneapolis and Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior.  I have never seen so much sugar disguised as pastries in my life.  My choice was a caramel roll with pecans.  This was made from a flattened sheet of soggy dough, covered in caramel syrup then rolled into a pastry about 6 or 7 inches across and 4 or 5 inches high.  Pecan nuts were then stuck all over the surface and icing applied over the top.  The whole thing weighed about 10 lbs, or so it seemed.  As for calories, there were at least enough for a whole months bodily requirement.  And all for about $2.50, approx. £2.  Try as we might, none of the three of us could finish our pastries in one go.  We drove in comparative silence for the next hour to Duluth.

Duluth is at the extreme western end of Lake Superior and is a major port.  At the other end is the Canadian town of Sault St Marie where gigantic locks enable passage of ships, some over 1000 ft long, onwards into Lake Huron and eventually to Montreal and the Gulf of St Lawrence.  That is particularly relevant for us as in two weeks time we will be in Newfoundland, smack bang in the middle of that Gulf.

On entering Duluth, we followed signs to the harbour which took us to the oldest part of the city.  The old warehouses and offices have been converted into bars, restaurants and tourist shops.  The dominant feature is the giant metal lift bridge known as the Aerial Lift Bridge.  The bridge is over the entrance from the lake into the harbour.  To let ships through, the roadway is lifted vertically between the two metal structures on either side of the water.  It’s a fine sight watching a whole roadway, about 400 feet long, being bodily raised nearly 150 feet.

We crossed the bridge and drove along a straight road running between two rows of houses that stand on a long sand barrier that separates the lake from the harbour.  The houses ended in some grassy parkland.  We stopped and climbed over a tree covered sand dune to reach the shore of the mighty Lake Superior.  Although it is called a lake, Superior, which signifies it is the “superior” or most northerly of the Great Lakes, has all the feel of a sea.  It is over 350 miles from where we were standing to the other end and about 160 miles wide.  The waves crashing on the shore, on this a relatively calm day, were not quite ocean waves but not far short. There were signs that some swimming took place here, but with an average temperature in the lake of 40F (4C), it was not tempting.

By now the effects of the sugar shots of mid-morning were beginning to wear off.  So we retreated to the restaurant area back over the Arial Lift Bridge.  Our chosen eatery was the Northern Waters Smokehaus, which had rave reviews.  They were not wrong.  It was rather modestly sited on one side of a converted old office block.  There was an option to order for takeaway or to sit on a few high stools beside the window.  We chose the latter.  NWS smoke a wide range of produce and many were displayed in the chill cabinets.  There was smoked hams, smoked salmon, smoked trout, smoked salami, indeed almost smoked anything.  Talk about spoilt for choice.  I had to have smoked trout and delicious it was served in a big slab in a  large ciabatta with fresh salad.  The Smokehaus was the kind of place where you wanted to come back again and again and try out all their products.

While eating our lunch, I noticed a poster advertising  a train excursion along the North Shore.  Being a train fanatic this was very tempting.  To my delight the others agreed.  It was now well after 2pm and the next and last train of the day was scheduled to leave at 3.  A quick car journey and we were at the Duluth Depot, home to the North Shore Scenic Railroad.  Tickets were bought and we walked down to the track.

The train consisted of a series of old railcars, all beautifully restored. The car we entered was a Chicago suburban double decker coach.  We selected upper deck seats so that we could get the best panoramas.

The train had to back out of the station for about ¼ mile to reach the through line.  This first part of the journey took us past dozens of coaches and locomotives waiting for restoration.  Once on the mainline, the train set off through the city and  onto the northern shoreline of the lake.  It bumbled along at no more than 15mph through swanky lakeside suburban housing.  A commentary gave interesting information about the history of the line and landmarks that we passed along the way.  The line is now little used but in the past it had been primarily for goods trains. Today most of the trains are like ours, for tourists.

The journey was not very long, no more than six or seven miles.  The train stopped on the bridge over the Lester River close to the point where it flows into the lake.  It then reversed for about ¼ mile to a point where there was a short stretch of double track.  By chance, we were exploring the train at this time and were in the carriage that was about to be come the lead carriage.  There we got talking to the train conductor who was supervising the coupling of the locomotive.

Jack Kemp turned out to be a retired protestant church minister and messing about with trains was now his absorbing hobby.  When we told him about our Scottish roots, he told us that had met Bob Maclennan, the Scottish Liberal Democrat former MP and now member of the House of Lords.  They were both young men and were travelling in Turkey, a country that we know well.  They got on well and travelled together back to Scotland staying at the Maclennan family seat in Sutherland.  An interesting story.

In the evening, as we were setting out for dinner, our route took us along the side of the harbour.  The Aerial Lift Bridge was open and looming out of the evening gloom there was a 1000 foot plus bulk carrier, the Paul R. Tregurtha.  As I learned later, it is the largest ship operating on the Great Lakes and was carrying coal for a power station in Detroit.  It was a fine sight watching it slip through the gap under the bridge and fade out into the waters of Lake Superior on its five day sail to Lake Huron and along the St Clair River to Motown.

In search of a decent breakfast, Fitgers Brewery seemed to have all that was required.  The brewery is a large brick building of about five storeys overlooking the lake.  Today the brewery part is limited to a craft brewery on the first floor.  The rest of the building is an hotel and gift shops.  We got a seat in the window of the restaurant with a panoramic view over the lake.

And it was here that we came across the first reference to Duluth’s native son, Bob Dylan.  I had been slightly amazed at the lack of references around the city to the great man.  At the end of a rather dark hallway there was a display case advertising the Bob Dylan Way.  This turns out to be a walking trail through the central area of the city establish in 2006 on the occasion of Dylan’s 65th birthday.  Although established with City money, the on going maintenance, signage, etc, is being funded by a few enthusiasts.  All rather low key.

Heading along the North Shore on the original Highway 61, now designated a scenic route, took us to the port town of Two Harbors.  This has the main loading dock for iron ore.  There are two high gantries of around 2300 feet each in length and 80 feet high.  Along the top are four railway tracks that carry the trucks laden with taconite (a form of iron ore) and dumps it into pockets or hoppers suspended inside the gantry structure.  When a boat arrives for a load it simply ties up to the gantry and the pockets are emptied into the holds of the ship.  It’s a very efficient operation as the ore can arrive at any time and so can the boats.

Lake Superior North Shore is a great area for outdoor pursuits.  There are plenty of campsites and log cabins.  Every few miles there are rivers tumbling down from the Iron Range Mountains to the north.  The most dramatic that we saw was the Gooseberry River Falls.  For the last mile, the river descends over a series of waterfalls and rapids.  There are excellent paths that get you to great views on both sides of the river.  Also the underlying basalt rock provides relatively safe climbing for budding mountaineers.

For our last stop we travelled a few miles further along the lakeside to Split Rock Lighthouse.  This lighthouse is a little over 100 years old and was in use from 1910 to 1969.  It stands 168 feet above the lake and the beacon has a range of 22 miles.   The lighthouse was commissioned after a disastrous storm in 1905 which sank or damaged 29 ships in the vicinity.  The anchor of one of those ships, the Madeira, is on display.  The position of the wreck is marked by two white buoys close to a cliff some ½ mile northeast along the coast.

And so we started the journey back to Minneapolis but not before a brief stop at the Castle Danger Brewery to pick up a few samples of their beers.  We bought a couple of Growlers (4 pint glass flagons) and a few other bottles, glasses and memento.  It really was now time to hit the trail.  This time we took the new US 61, a fast road a little inland of the original.

On the drive back there was time to reflect on Bob Dylan or, more precisely, the lack of Bob Dylan.  Apart from the worthy but less than impressive Bob Dylan Way, there was nothing.  When he was quite young his family moved north to the township of Hibbing in the Iron Range Mountains.  The house he lived in there is identified but not open to visitors although the street is now called Bob Dylan Ave.

One of his songs, “Something there is about you” on the album Planet Waves, talks about “the Great Lakes” and “Walking the hills of old Duluth”.  That is the only reference that comes to mind from anywhere in his vast catalogue that talks about his homeland. My guess is that, apart from normal influences of family things, little of his home life influenced his career in music.  But one event that happened in Duluth did change his life. 

On the 30th January 1959 at the age of 17, he went to a concert in The Duluth National Armory.  The star of the show was Buddy Holly.  Also on stage were The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens.  It was two days before the event that has become known as “The day the music died”.  Bob Dylan was mesmerised.  There is a photograph showing him right at the front, clinging on to the edge of the stage with Buddy Holly looking down at him.  He has acknowledged that this was a life changing moment for him.

Later that year he enrolled at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a year later he dropped out and moved to New York.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I’ve since learned that the Duluth National Armory has been undergoing major renovations.  Next week it will re-open as a music resource centre.  A fine tribute to Bob in his 75th year.    

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More Wandering along the Wandle

A while ago I wrote a post in this blog entitled “A Dawdle by the Wandle”.  It described a walk from the head of the Wandle River in South London to Morden Hall.  And a fascinating walk it was with some surprisingly beautiful urban countryside, stately homes and water mills.  For the most part the surrounding city did not intrude onto the tranquillity of the river banks.

On that day we walked about half of the length of the river leaving the second half down to The Thames at Wandsworth for another day in the then near future.  How time flies.  Yesterday, three years, one month and one day later I set out by myself to complete the walk.

I travelled by train to Wimbledon then caught a “tram” to Morden.  I say “tram” because it’s much more like a light railway system.  Indeed, most of the route is along old railway tracks.  Nothing like the real trams that I grew up with in Glasgow in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, running down the middle of the city streets.

The tram stop is called Morden Road and is about ½ mile from Morden Hall my intended starting point.  So the first bit of walking was along a very busy road. None of the rural idyll of the previous Dawdle.  Relief was at hand when I came to a gate into Morden Hall Park.  The contrast between the road and the park was amazing.  This part of the park is mostly kept as natural parkland with trees and meadows of long grasses and colourful wild flowers.

The Wandle Trail is well signposted.  At this point, and as it turned out for most of the walk, the path is a combined cycle and walking trail.  This brings the benefit of an all-weather surface but the downside of bikes passing in close proximity.  Why don’t they ring their bells??  Fortunately, I was walking on a weekday so the cycle traffic was fairly light.  Also, for the most part, there were very few walkers.

What there were plenty of for the first mile or so, were small family groups with plastic buckets gleaning brambles from the bushes beside the trail.  There was an abundance of ripe, black, juicy berries.

The first building of industrial history interest, was Merton Abbey Mills.  And I must make a confession.  The decision to do the walk was made on the spur of the moment as I found myself with a free day.  As a result, I had not done any of the usual research that always pays dividends when travelling in new places.  The buildings were on the other side of the river mostly screened from view by trees and scrub on both banks.  What could be seen appeared to be over commercialised shops and eating places.  I decided to walk by.

As I passed, a large, mostly wooden waterwheel came into site.  Although it was not turning, it looked as though it had been restored to working order.  It was of the undershot type where the wheel is suspended over a mill race.

I later read on the Merton Abbey Mills website ( that I was passing some real industrial history.  The current mill was built in 1885 although there have been mills on the site since the 1600’s.  The last industrial user of the site was Liberty’s who were producing their world famous prints here until as recently as 1970.

Another famous name, William Morris the artist, textile designer, poet & writer, philosopher and social activist, moved his textile design and printing works to the site in 1881.  At the Merton Abbey works he paid his workers higher than average wages, supplied a library for their education, a dormitory for the apprentice boys and provided work in clean, healthy and pleasant surroundings.

So, I had, through unpreparedness, missed what is probably the most interesting historical site on the lower half of the Wandle River.

Shortly after this calamity, the trail comes to Colliers Wood, a busy place with loads of traffic and pedestrians.  Also, as happened at a number of similar points along the trail, the signposting was less than useful.  In this case it was further compounded by a closure of the official path whilst an area of formal park was being redesigned.  There were no diversion signs.  A bit of trial and error, including sneaking through a pub carpark, eventually got me into Wandle Park.  There was something disappointing about this park.  It seemed to be suffering from neglect or, possibly, just lack of investment.  And the signing for the trail had either never been there or had been vandalised, or a combination of both.  Whichever it was, the route through the park was not obvious.

Once outside the park and onto urban streets, the route was well marked as the whole trail is part of Route 20 of the National Cycle Network.  A short walk led me to the start of the Wandle Meadow Nature Park.  This is a strip of woodland and scrub on both sides of the river.  During the latter part of the 19th century and until 1970, there was a sewage plant here.  When it closed there were a number of attempts to redevelop the site and then, in 1989, Merton Council designated the area as a nature reserve.

There was a distinct lack of information boards.  These would have helped to indicate what birds, insects and plants to look out for.  Instead, the most obvious “plants” were of the industrial variety lining both sides of this narrow strip of nature.  At one point a metal walkway veered off to the left in the direction of the river.  It led to a viewing platform extending over an open reach of the river.  The only birds around today were a few Mallard ducks but it was easy to imagine that on other days there might be the odd heron or family of swans.

About half way through the nature reserve, the trail had to cross a busy road.  There was a Pelican traffic-light controlled crossing to get walkers safely across.  Unfortunately, the crossing was closed and no alternative pedestrian walkway was marked.  Only when a wide load came along that temporarily stopped the traffic, could I dodge across.

At the end of the park the trail diverted away from the river.  The obstacle was the mainline railway running from Waterloo to Surrey, Hampshire and the South Coast cities of Portsmouth and Southampton amongst others.  The route went along a few streets of housing until it emerged on the very busy Garrett Lane near Earlsfield Station.  Having walked through the road tunnel under the railway, I followed the trail as it continued on urban streets and crossed over the Wandle at a point where the river was harnessed between concrete and brick walls with a concrete barrier running down the middle.  After about half a mile the trail entered King George’s Park.

This is a very extensive area made up of a number of distinct sections with many different sports facilities.  The first big open area, today being used for dog walking, had been a coal depot for the Army during World War II.  Now it is a flat area of grass.  After walking gently downhill across a series of flat grass areas and passing a leisure centre, it was a bit of a surprise to find the last part of the park laid out in a more traditional style.  There were tennis courts, a bowling green, ornamental ponds and plenty of places to sit.  By now the trail had taken me right into the centre of Wandsworth town.

Before leaving home I had printed a short guide to the trail produced by Merton Council.  Unfortunately, the pdf version on the web had been designed to be printed on a single sheet of A4.  That may sound handy, but the print was some small that reading it was a real trial.  The notes for the centre of Wandsworth said “Looking downstream, you can see Youngs brewery on the right. This is the oldest site in Britain upon which there has been continuous brewing.” Sadly, Youngs moved out a few years ago and the site is now a building development.  It looked as though some of the original buildings have been retained but today it’s just a building site.

After negotiating my way across the two 4-lane roads that form part of the South Circular London Inner Orbital road, the trail entered its final journey to the Thames.  The Wandle is divided into two branches here and runs between concrete walls.  Not the most scenic of places.  And to make matters worse, the east bank of the river is home to Wandsworth Council’s massive rubbish collection point.  Incidentally, the rubbish gathered here is loaded onto barges and towed down to a waste incinerator site on the Thames in the London Borough of Bexley to generate electricity.  Good for the environment if not for the enjoyment of the mouth of the Wandle.

And so the walk came to an end with me looking from a bridge over the river towards the mighty Thames about 100 yards away.  I’m glad I did it but it’s not a walk I’m likely to do again.  But, a return visit to Merton Abbey Mills is definitely on the cards, although the rest of the trail from there to the Thames was mostly disappointing.  Having said that, the upper half of the trail, mostly covered in the earlier post, was very rewarding.  So my recommendation is to take a bus or tube to Colliers Wood, then a short walk to the mill where you can join the trail and head south to the source.  That would be a great walk.


Posted in London, United Kingdom, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What did we do before GPS and SatNav?

Note : This post was first published in 2013. It has been updated.

If you think back just a few years, before the advent of cheap GPS and SatNav devices, we used to find our way about the country using maps.  Remember them,  large sheets of folded paper accurately showing where everywhere was and enabling you to measure the distance from one place to another and work out routes to get from A to B.  What follows is a story of a remarkable man and the origin of modern-day maps in the Great Britain.

A couple of months ago I read a snippet in our local paper about Major-General William Roy who came from Carluke in Lanarkshire and his connection with Hampton, just a few miles from our home in Richmond.  For anyone with an interest in old maps of Scotland, Roy is a major figure.  As a young man, in the middle of the 18th century, he was employed by the British Army to help with military planning and to produce maps of the road system of Scotland immediately after the Bonnie Prince Charlie led 1745 Jacobite rebellion.   It was to start a lifelong career in cartography that would lead to the foundation of the Ordnance Survey and the accurate mapping of the whole of the Great Britain.

In 1780, the exact distance between the observatories at Greenwich and in Paris was unknown.  This led to difficulties in correlating some of the astronomical data gathered by these two great institutions.  In those days the only accurate way of measuring distances was to painstakingly lie rods of known length end to end between point A and point B.  This had been done over some very large distances on land but the English Channel threw up a serious and seemingly insurmountable challenge.

The art of triangulation was understood but not well-developed in England.  Triangulation requires the setting up of a baseline whose length can be very accurately measured then from each end measuring the angle to a distant point.  Simple trigonometry then allows the calculation of the distance from each end of the baseline to the chosen distant point.  It’s a slow, laborious task but, over time, the relative distances between all points can be calculated and maps drawn.  And, of course, this technique can be used across water as well as land providing there is a line of sight from one side to the other.  For the process to work it is crucial that the baseline is a few miles long and is over level ground so that its length can be accurately measured.

William Roy was the obvious candidate for the job and his first crucial task was to identify the best place for the baseline.  To the west of London there was a vast area of heathland, Hounslow Heath, that was virtually flat from one side to the other.    Roy decided he wanted a baseline of about 5 miles in length and he set about selecting the line across the heath, marking the ends and painstakingly measuring its exact length initially with wooden rods.  These rods proved to have too many inaccuracies due to the effects of water and temperature.  They were replaced with glass rods and accuracy improved dramatically.  His measurements proved so accurate that, many years later, when more sophisticated measuring was possible, he was found to be about two inches out.  Not bad.  Even with modern day GPS his measurements have been shown to be accurate to within less than thirty feet. Quite an achievement.

Being the devout cartophile that I am, it was essential to go and look at Roy’s baseline and soak up the atmosphere.  A little research soon identified the exact location of the end points.  A look at the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map of London South – most appropriate given the nature of the expedition ahead – highlighted the fact that the north western section of the base line goes right across modern-day Heathrow Airport and other parts have been built over with housing, warehouses and factories.  It clearly wasn’t practical to “walk the line” as Johnnie Cash memorably sang.  However, the modern passion for establishing footpaths with a recreational purpose, led me to look at a section of the London Loop that passed near both ends of the baseline.  This could provide a good walking route albeit a slightly circuitous one adding a couple of miles to the length of the baseline.

So on a cloudy, warm and humid Thursday afternoon with rain threatening, I set off on an R70 bus from Richmond Bus Station to the appropriately named Roy Grove, the site of the south west end of the baseline.  The bus was brand new and on its first day in service but the driver of the bus had to apologise for the faulty heating system that was blasting out hot air.  It was a relief to arrive in Hampton and alight at the corner of Roy Grove.  The street is a quiet cul-de-sac of neat, post-war council houses with the tell-tale individual front doors of houses that were sold off during the Thatcher era.

The exact end-point was easy to find.  Two cannons from Greenwich, were dug into the ground to mark the end points with the barrels pointing vertically and with about three feet above the ground.  In 1926, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Roy, a plaque was erected on the site.  And the Twickenham Council at the time that the houses were built in 1947, had respected the historical value of the baseline and had left a good plot of grass around the cannon.

The view along the baseline illustrates Roy’s choice of terrain precisely.  It is completely flat as far as the eye can see.  Although much of Hounslow Heath is now built upon so you can’t see from one end of the line to the other, the lack of any raised ground is pretty apparent.

One of the suggested routes between the two endpoints was to take the 285 bus which has a stop two minutes away from Roy Grove and another stop even closer to the other endpoint on the Northern Perimeter of Heathrow.  It follows a route almost parallel to the baseline – apart from a diversion to avoid crossing both the northern and southern Heathrow runways.   As mentioned earlier my sights were set on walking between the two endpoints so I set off up the Uxbridge Road to join the London Loop about 3/4 mile to the north.

At this point The Loop leaves the road behind and traverses the edge of the Twickenham Golf Course, through a housing estate, across the Great Chertsey Road to the banks of the River Crane.  Technically The Loop follows the east bank of the river but I have walked and cycled that path on numerous occasions so today, in the spirit of adventure and using my OS map courtesy of Roy’s pioneering work, I joined the path on the west bank.  The path is well made with excellent drainage and about 8 feet wide, in sharp contrast to the eastern path which changes surface every few yards and has muddy sections even on the driest of days.

The path had a few picturesque sections alongside the river but it didn’t pass the one major industrial artifact that is on the other bank.  This structure is an old gunpowder mill and, thanks to some recent restoration, is well worth a visit.  But not today.  The river then disappears under the Hanworth Road and here the paths stop.  The next stretch is built up with houses, factories and warehouses and, if you tried to work a way through them, you would come to the impenetrable barrier formed by the Hounslow branch of the Waterloo to Staines railway line.  So The London Loop follows the road towards Hounslow and then, having crossed the railway by a road bridge, takes a left turn that leads via a small housing scheme onto Hounslow Heath.

I’ve never been on the Heath and wasn’t at all sure what to expect.  The first reaction was how remote it soon started to feel.  An occasional person, usually a dog walker or a bramble picker, came into view but as quickly disappeared again.  Hounslow Heath in Roy’s days had a reputation as the home of highwaymen.  Although the Heath is only a fraction of the size it was in the 18th century you could still imagine the modern-day equivalent, muggers, could flourish in this urban wilderness.  And my unease was not helped when I came across a rope hanging from a tree – was rough justice still practiced here???

Soon after the rope, civilisation intruded in the form of Hounslow Heath Golf Course.  The path crossed a fairway near to the 7th tee but there was no sign of golfers today.  Up to this point the route had mostly been across open land with scrub and small copses of trees.  Now it came back to my old friend the River Crane, entered woodland and followed the river for the next 3/4 mile till it emerged suddenly in a BP petrol station forecourt beside a busy arterial road.  What a contrast, from rural idyll to urban nightmare in ten paces.

I’d noticed a number of small weirs in the river, the tell-tale signs of old mills. An information board indicated that this bit of woodland was called Brazil Mill Wood after the biggest mill on the Crane near this point.  The name comes from the Brazil nuts that it ground to make dyes for the paper and calico industries that also flourished on the Crane in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Another major product of the mills in the area was, as mentioned earlier, gunpowder, which utilised the local willows and alders to make the essential ingredient of charcoal.  Clearly this had been a thriving community back in the days of the Industrial Revolution.

When you are walking in woodland the view of the sky is basically restricted to what is immediately overhead.  On entering the petrol station forecourt it became apparent that some very black clouds had been building up to the west and rain was but minutes away.  Discretion being the better part of valour and a 285 bus stop being less than 1/2 mile away, it was time to abandon The London Loop and make a dash for shelter.  I didn’t feel too bad about this change of plan.  As mentioned earlier the 285 route follows the Roy’s baseline as closely as is possible.

The heavens opened as I reached the bus stop so I joined a small group of people huddled in the bus shelter.  The bus arrived within a few minutes.  Heathrow was now within sight and the route passed by many of the warehouses and offices of the businesses that service the airport.  And then, with a link back to the past of Hounslow Heath, we passed Dick Turpin Way.  History records  that Turpin probably only carried out one highway robbery on Hounslow Heath preferring to ply his trade in East and North London. In fact, contrary to popular folklore, Turpin was no gentleman thief, he was a really seedy villain and murderer.  He only took up highway robbery in the latter years of his short life.  I wonder if the Council was in full possession of the facts when naming this short road after him.

Back to the expedition.  After Hatton Cross, the bus and tube hub serving the south side of the airport, the bus route takes the inevitable diversion from Roy’s baseline to avoid crossing the two main runways and driving through the gigantic aircraft hangers.  It finishes by going along the Bath Road on the north side of the airport.  It was time to get off, just before the bus headed through the tunnel to the central area of the airport.  And it was at this point that I realised that I had forgotten to print out some vital instructions; the directions to the end of the baseline.  Calamity.  All I remembered was that it was in the Business Parking area on the North side of the airport above the entrance to the tunnel that takes traffic to Terminals 1, 2 and 3.

Undaunted, I started to walk round the parking lots trying to avoid being picked up as a car thief or even as a trespasser!  At one point a courtesy bus stopped and the driver asked if I was going to Terminal 1.  No, I said, I’m looking for a cannon.  He looked a bit confused to say the least and suggested I try calling the authorities on the help telephones that were scattered about.  I’d visions of blue flashing lights and a lot more explaining to do so took the cowards way out and walked smartly to the nearest exit.  So near and yet so far.

And then luck kicked back in.  On the way in I’d passed, without noticing, a concrete tablet beside a roundabout at the top of the tunnel slip road.  On the way back it caught my eye and help was at hand.  The tablet bore an inscription as follows :-

“109 yards to the south of this tablet is THE NORTH WEST TERMINAL OF THE FIRST BASELINE OF THE TRIANGULATION OF GREAT BRITAIN.  The base was measured in 1784 by MAJOR-GENERAL WILLIAM ROY FRS the Father of the Ordnance Survey”

Directions at last.  And right enough, after dodging traffic using the roundabout and the slip road – there’s no provision for pedestrians here – at the junction of Nene Road with the Northern Perimeter Road and nestling in a corner of the Business Parking fence, was the elusive cannon barrel pointing skywards exactly as in Hampton.  I’d made it.

The cannon is actually outside of the car parks but only just.  The security fence makes a neat diversion leaving the marker visible and accessible to all.  Having said that, how many of the tens of thousands of people every day who pass within feet realise that they are passing a monument to a major event in the development of the mapping of the Great Britain.

It may sound a bit nerdy to talk in these terms but just think where we would be now if no one had worked out how to measure distances accurately and to produce the world class maps of the Ordnance Survey.  So next time you set your SatNav, remember Major-General  William Roy FRS, the pioneer of mapping in the UK.

Posted in Bus Travel, Maps, travel, UK, Walking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

To Bargain or Not

Unusually for me this a very short but on a subject dear to my heart.

Today I needed to buy a simple piece of headwear for a Midsummer party.  I knew roughly what was needed and decide that the local Thursday market would be a good place to buy.

As I walked along the near empty Kalkan Thursday market, it took a while to find a purveyor of hats.  The stall I eventually found had plenty of choice.  The proprietor was not immediately obvious.  Finding the item I wanted was relatively simple until the stall holder appeared.

His first angle was to find out where I came from.  On the mention of Scotland he immediately started to imitate, badly, various Scottish accents.  He was not winning me over to a purchase.

I asked him for a price for the hat and he stated 35tl.  That’s approximately £8.30 in UK pounds.  Back in the UK I would not expect to pay in a regular store more than £7, about 30 tl.  And here was I haggling in a Turkish market.

After a bit of to and fro, the price was reduced in stages through 30tl to 25tl to 20tl. I said at each point I was only willing to pay 15tl.

At this point I decided that if he was able to reduce his starting price by not far short of 50% then his starting point had been a complete fraud.  As I walked away he shouted that he would accept 15tl but by this time my desire to negotiate had long since deserted me.

It then only took a short walk in to town to find a regular shop selling hats.  With a little discussion about style it was a straightforward decision to choose a hat that met my requirements.  The price quoted was exactly 15tl.  There was no haggling just an agreement that the shopkeeper’s price met my expectation.  A sale was agreed.

Now it could be that I could have argued the shopkeeper down a little but there was no need.  He had met my price expectation exactly.  The market trader had got it all completely wrong.  He didn’t read me and thought I was someone who could be ripped off.

I guess that neither of these traders will read this post but, if they do, I hope that will remember that all customers have a breaking point and it would pay you to find our what that is very early in the negotiation.


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