Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Summer Holiday - day ten

August 2 – Pickering Castle 

Today we stayed in Pickering and walked up to the castle.

On the way up you have a view over the station and you can just make out one of the carriages in this picture.

Pickering Castle was built as a Norman stronghold during the 11th century and originally had a wooden defensive outer wall, or bailey, During the 13th century it had stone walls added.  Much of the structure still remains, although very little of it is habitable.
Unlike many English castles, it managed to remain undamaged by both English civil wars but fell into disrepair during the 16th and 17th centuries and was not maintained in any significant way until it was taken over by English Heritage in the 20th century.

Only one wall remains of the central building that was on the mound, known as the motte and originally, it would have looked much like the Great Tower at York Castle.

The bailey walls are all still standing, although often partially ruined, and so you can easily see the size of the original castle.

There are still some of the outer towers still standing but most of them are only partially accessible to the public.  The main entrance is in the base of one of the remaining towers.

One building that has been restored is the chapel and you can see some of the derelict buildings beside it.
It did not take long to explore the site and we walked around peering inside all the standing buildings and looking at the displays inside the chapel.  From the top of the mound  you could see a long way in all directions and this must have made a good lookout during the times when hostile armies may have been marching towards the castle.
After this we returned to the house for a meal.

One thing I have not so far commented on is that about the house we stayed in there were some odd ornaments.

In the landing window there was a large china cat snarling at the world which was pretty lifelike from outside.  That was kind of scary but not creepy.

However, in the kitchen there were the most creepy set of china clowns I have ever seen.

These were straight out of a Steven King novel and no one would have been surprised to find that they had moved to different positions during the night.  Imagine waking up to find one in your room.


Sunday, 25 September 2016

Summer holiday - Day eight and nine

July 30 – Pickering

On Saturday we did not go out but rested and walked around Pickering doing some shopping and very little else.

The old School House in Pickering

July  31 - Eden Camp

On Sunday we went to visit  Eden Camp, a World War II museum near Malton,

This is in the grounds of what was once a prisoner of war camp. At the end of the war the camp was used for storage by the MOD, but was eventually abandoned and allowed to become derelict. Much later, after a considerable amount of work clearing the grounds and restoring the original huts that had housed the prisoners, it was turned into a museum.  Each hut has a different theme and there are thirteen huts altogether. Visitors are guided around the site via path that leads you through each hut in turn. I was keen to see the museum, having been told it was very good and it turned out to be just that.
There was actually much more than you could take in on a single visit and we were somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer mass of detail.

In the building dedicated to the Dunkirk retreat across the channel, one exhibit was a rifle which had been washed up on Dunkirk beach many years after the war finished. This must have been abandoned by one of the British soldiers during the retreat.

I once worked with an older colleague called Charley Featherstone, who had actually been one of the men trapped on Dunkirk beach and he had told me of his experience. Apparently his regiment had been part of the rearguard left behind to slow the German advance and give the retreating troops time to be taken off the beach. His unit were concealed in a bunker with a hatch that allowed one man to keep watch. One morning, when it had become pretty obvious that they were going to be overwhelmed and their captain was on watch, his sergeant said to him that their newly appointed captain had not confided with him what the plan was should the Germans break through. He said he hoped their officer was not killed because he would not know what he should order the men to do. The words had hardly left his lips when a German sniper took out their captain who fell dead at their feet. The sergeant then told the men to dig a way out of the back of the bunker and all make their own way to the beach.
Charley made it to the beach but had to swim to the nearest boat and so dumped his rifle, pack, helmet and boots in order to stay afloat. He was most indignant about the whole affair, because when he re-joined his regiment back in England, he was charged for the loss of his equipment.

A lot of weapons were left behind, but this pile was recovered by the German army
Seeing the rusty rifle brought this all back to me and it occurred to me that it would be ironic if that rifle was the actual one abandoned by Charley. Of course the chances of that being the case would be millions to one against, and anyway, should it have been Charley’s rifle, there is no way I could ever know.

Some of the exhibits were a bit too realistic and in one which was simulating experiencing air raids, I felt quite disturbed presumably dragging up some distant memory of living through that time as a child. I was three when the war ended and so they must have been very deep memories, but disturbing enough to make me rather hurry to be out of that particular hut.  What surprised me was that I was affected so strongly by the simulation. You never know what is lurking in your subconscious that can jump out and bite you under the right circumstances.

I wandered around the outside the exhibits after that and found a number of interesting things to look at, including an atomic bomb, which said ‘training’ on the side and so presumably would not suddenly blow Malton off the face of the Earth if the little pin holding the detonator rusted through.

A replica of one of the feared buzz bombs was displayed outside.  These were more effective as a terror weapon than as a tactical weapon.  They only landed after the engine cut out, which was timed to happen over its target area.   The engine made a distinctive buzzing sound whilst they were flying and anyone hearing one coming and then hearing it cut out, never knew how far it would glide before hitting the ground. As a result, people would be left terrified until they heard the bang.  

As a return present, this one is one of ours and has a message for the recipient.  Unfortunately they would not have time to read the message before it arrived and so this kind of defiance went unnoticed by the Nazis.

One of the exhibits is a Soviet Russian Tank which has the motto 'Forward to Berlin' on each side in red and another on the turret, which my Russian is not good enough to translate. They certainly got to Berlin and it took a long time for the aftermath of that to return to normal.

There was also an old 1930s/40s Austin Seven which was painted the wrong colour. These cars were ten a penny post war and you could buy one for about £5 in the early 50s. They were all, without exception, black, and I recall very clearly as a child, seeing a car that was not black for the first time and being surprised. My father had at least two of these Ford models at different times during the 50s and 60s and we drove all over the country, never exceeding 40mph because that was about as much as they could manage with all of us inside.

This post seems to be becoming more of my recollections than a visit to a museum, but in this picture, there are two more things from my past.

On the right, the glass objects are accumulators, that is a  lead acid rechargeable battery, the same technology as a car battery, but just a single cell, not the six which make up a 12 volt car battery. They were used in old radios as what was called the low tension, or LT battery. These batteries give out two volts exactly and the old valve heater filaments were designed to run off this voltage in very old, allegedly portable, radios from the 1920s up to the late 1950s. I say allegedly because they were heavy. The high tension, or HT battery also needed for valves was a huge block of 80 1.5V torch batteries sealed in a branded cardboard case and provided the 120 volts the valves needed to operate. I used to play with such things as a pre-teenager and I had an ancient radio that I had been given, which needed an accumulator.  I used it to listen to radio Luxembourg, the only radio station that played rock and roll and pop music.  The BBC did not stoop so low at that time.   As well as this, my father's garage had a charging bay which always had a number of these accumulators bubbling away that his customers brought in to be charged up for their ancient radios.

The other green painted object on the left is an anti-personnel bomb and it is just like the one I found when I was a child whilst we were on holiday in Tankerton in Kent.

 Long after the war ended, the beaches around the coast were full of unexploded ordinance and in the early years post war, often parts of the beaches were fenced off with barbed wire because a UXB had been spotted but not yet cleared. We played around these and thought nothing of it, but we had been given strict instructions not to touch any bombs we found on the beach.

Whilst playing on the beach with a bunch of other boys I had met, we found a bomb just like the one in the picture. Knowing we must not touch it, and believing in a vague sort of way that it would only explode if it came into contact with human flesh, we carefully tied some string we had found around it and started to carry it off the beach. We walked up the bumpy path with the bomb swinging between us hanging on the string.  The detonator only inches from the uneven ground as we took it up to the caravan site to show our parents.
My father was already on his way down to the beach to call me in for lunch and on seeing us with the bomb, behaved much like a cat that has just seen a very large dog heading towards it with murder in mind. Crouching in a strange posture I shall always remember, he shouted very sternly, ‘PUT IT DOWN VERY CAREFULLY AND COME HERE.’ We obeyed puzzled by his behavior and having herded us safely away from the vicinity of the bomb, he phoned the police and later a bomb squad came to defuse it. We were all ticked off very sternly both by our parents and the police and asked why on earth we had picked it up when we had been told not to touch anything like it and I said in all innocence, we did not ever touch it, we used string to hold it. I really did not understand.
So lots of memories for someone as ancient as me in this museum.

Nothing really changes, just the location.  In my day it was Europe, but now it is the Middle East and children are still subject to all the horrors my generation were subjected to, Perhaps one day the human race may grow up, but it will be a long time yet I fear.

Meanwhile back in Yorkshire, having seen more than we could reasonably take in and so suffering from various degrees of data overload we gathered in the retro cafe or NAFFI, as it was called, to be in tune with the military theme and after a coffee, we returned to our house in Pickering.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Summer Holiday - Day seven

July 29 – Castle Howard 

On Friday we went off to visit Castle Howard. This is the stately home of the Howard family and it is known as Castle Howard because it was built for them on the site of a part ruined medieval castle, but is not actually a castle. In 1699 building was started on their new house but seemed, like many projects today, to have overrun a bit and actually took one hundred years to complete.

Probably a bit over budget by that time too.  It has extensive grounds and formal gardens and seems to be more famous for its links to the TV and film versions of Brideshead Revisited than its status as a 600 year old stately home. Both the TV and movie versions of the book were filmed in and around the buildings and some rooms were still arranged as they had been as sets for the movie. 

Aside from that, as stately homes go it was quite impressive. It is my opinion, that once you have seen one stately home, you have seen them all and more often than not I am left not exactly unimpressed, but seeing nothing that I have not seen before in other homes open to the public. Castle Howard was an exception and its interiors are amazing. The front entrance from the outside is quite grand, but inside the main entrance the hallway is impressive.  Lit from above by a glass dome it is a profusion of marble and statues.

Most other parts of the interior are much of a muchness, the bedrooms, the drawing rooms, lounges and the inevitable library all stuffed with antique furniture, statues and paintings are as per normal for stately homes.

However, the chapel was another gem of elaborate decor with some murals painted high up on the walls which were several orders better than those we saw in the church at Pickering and unlikely to give children nightmares.

One thing I do like to see in stately homes are the Roman statues and busts, I am impressed by the age and the lifelike and individual faces they show.  Because many of them are of known people such as emperors they are probably as good a likeness of their features that any modern photograph could produce.

This one has character.  A bit grainy, the light was not good
These statues are a view of the past that would have otherwise been unobtainable if some long forgotten artisan had not been able to bring their faces to life in stone. Obviously not every bust you see is a genuine Roman bust and are quite often copies, but they are usually very good copies.

Over the years many stately homes will have had Roman-like busts made of the family or other notable people, but some are genuine Roman antiquities and the bust of Antonius Pius is genuine.  It was used to pay off death duties and is now owned by Liverpool museum, but it is allowed to be displayed in Castle Howard.

The day was a damp day to start with and so we explored the interior of the house first, but later, whilst gloomy it was not actually raining, so we wandered around the grounds.

The fountain is a major feature of the lawns area and the figure in the centre is supporting a globe with the signs of the zodiac all around it.

This part of the formal grounds, which is visible from the house, ends in the inevitable ha-ha.  A ditch designed to be impossible to see from the house,  This was a common feature of stately homes because the owners did not want a wall or a fence because that would hide the view.  A ha-ha would seem to be a continuous part of the grounds, whilst still preventing stray animals and unwanted guests wandering into the formal grounds from the open farmlands.

In the distance, you occasionally caught glimpses of this pyramid which is a mausoleum for the Howard family.
There are a number of statues and buildings in grounds and we walked to the Temple of the Four Winds which is a kind of elaborate summer house and a good way away from the house.

On the way back we came across this plaque which claims to be above a time capsule.

The opening date seems rather optimistic, being two thousand years hence. I do not know of any Human culture that has lasted so long, so presumably whoever opens it will be from some strange and different culture who will almost certainly not be unable to understand what it is all about.

We then visited the gardens where there were all manner of cultivated plants and flowers.

By this time we, that is the older members of the family, were well and truly pooped and so we departed for Pickering and supper.  Having bought some locally made sausages from the farm shop at Castle Howard. When we got back we went out for chips from the nearest chippy and so, with very little effort, had sausages and chips to finish off the day.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Summer Holiday - Day six

July 28 – Pickering Church 

Today we stayed in Pickering and had a lazy day wandering around the town.

One place worth a visit is the church of St Peter and St Paul. It has some 15th century paintings on the walls.

They were covered in plaster during the reformation and were re-discovered in 1852. The vicar of the parish at that time decided they were a distraction for his flock and had them whitewashed. In 1876, they were uncovered once more and restored. It was not unusual for churches before the reformation to have similar paintings, but they were often destroyed and lost forever.

I believe this is the beheading of John the Baptist
These, typical of the times, show various saintly goings on to emphasise the sermons preached in the church. These edifying images consist of various scenes, such as the torture and death of St Edmund. A lovely thing for the kiddies to have nightmares about.

I am not sure if these are souls entering or leaving hell, certainly pretty scary stuff
One part of the church which was of interest to our American side of the family is that there is a connection with Pickering and the USA in as much as two people who emigrated to America from Pickering were responsible for some of the planning of Washington DC and this connection is commemorated in the church.

Today was also my birthday, so later that day I was taken to the Coach House Inn for my Birthday meal, a place that boasted lamb shank, one of my favourite meals.

This was a few miles outside Pickering and we were able to find it fairly easily, but in the pub, we were told that a quicker route existed that went straight across the moors and so on our return trip we decided to take this route. The first thing we were presented with was a really steep climb which took the form a series of very sharp hairpin bends that took us up several hundred feet to the top of the moors. A soon as we reached the top, we entered low cloud and so could see very little of the wonderful Yorkshire moors we were hoping to see.
The Yorkshire Moors, not at their best
The third thing to happen was that we encountered a flock of black sheep. That in itself is fairly unusual, most sheep are white in the UK with the odd one or two black ones, but these sheep were all jet black and had decided the road was their territory where one of them decided that nothing would make it get out of my way. In the end I pulled off the road and wove around it hoping the grass was firm enough to support us. It was and we continued down until we were below the cloud and into normal visibility once more.

Jaywalking black sheep

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Summer Holiday day four and five

July 26 - Pickering Again and July 27 - York

The next day we did some shopping and rested, walking around Pickering in the afternoon, but not doing anything special. Pickering has a number of bric-a-brac shops and two antique stores, plus a small arcade known as a flea market. It was just another mix of bric-a-brac and a few new items like a small indoor market, without fleas. Interestingly, it is advertised in Canada and I took this picture just outside Toronto a few years ago.

Pickering is also a district of Toronto, Canada
  Maybe they are not the same place, but I had you fooled for a moment.

In a Pickering shop window, but not for sale

Pickering has two major attractions, a castle and a parish church. The castle is mostly in ruins, having been partially destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, but there is enough to get a good idea of its Norman splendour and gives good views of the area. The church has some amazing medieval pictures painted on the walls and is worth a long look inside. More of these later.

Our next outing was to York.

July 27 York

Wednesday we went to York.  We decided it would be simpler to use the Park and Ride service rather than take two cars into the centre of town.  Because TSIL needed a buggy, one car drove to the Shopmobility car park and we met up as soon as we could.  The first thing we discovered was the Jorvic Viking Exhibition. The Jorvic experience was one of the major attractions in York. But in 2015 it had been damaged when York experienced some major flooding and the museum had to be closed whilst the exhibits were transported to safe storage. Work was still taking place to re-open it fully, but in the mean time they had moved into the knave of the St Mary's church with a reduced display.

Inside we found people dressed in Viking clothes who were able to tell us about their particular part of the display. In a way, this was more interesting than the full thing, since it was not too crowded and you had a personalised explanation of what you are looking at and can strike up a conversation with someone who knows a lot about the period.

A picturesque building in central York
After a coffee break, we walked off to find John Palmer's grave, better known in life as Dick Turpin.  A name we had all heard since he was probably the most notorious highwayman of all time.  The gravestone claims he was buried in St George's churchyard, but there is a lot of controversy as to whether or not that is correct.  It has also been suggested that his body was taken from his original grave, wherever it was, and buried in another graveyard in secret.

From there we passed some of the old city walls and went on to York Castle.

We ate lunch in the castle museum cafe and then walked up to the top of the The Great Tower.

The steps look quite daunting, but are not too bad
From the top you can see across York and get a view of York  Minster - almost.
After that we split up and The Better Half (TBH) and I went to have a look at Fairfax House, whilst the rest of the family went shopping.   Fairfax House is a Georgian town house which has been turned into a museum.  Its history is interesting. Built in the 1740s, in 1795 it was bought by Charles Gregory Fairfax, 9th Viscount Fairfax of Emle and so became known as Fairfax House.
Fairfax House
It was owned by a number of families since but the last family, falling on hard times, it was sold and became a dance hall and a cinema.  It was restored in the 80s and returned to its former condition with period furniture recovered from other collections and houses.  Much of the furniture was donated by the Terry family when Noel Terry the founder of Terry's Chocolate died.   The cinema entrance still exists and is now used as the main entrance for visitors.
Meeting up with the rest of the family we caught the Park and Ride bus and then drove back to Pickering.