19 Jul 2012 ABROAD
This trip was different from any other I have been on in that I was ill with bronchitis when I left Australia and only recovered towards the end of my 18 day stay in Londn. As far as I know I had never had bronchitis and the last time I was really ill overseas was in Israel in 1974. But enough about being ill.
My time in London ended up being about people and not a lot else, which was fine. I was able to catch up with nearly everyone I wanted to see among family, friends, researchers and artists. I duly delivered my copies of ‘Gravy’. I also enjoyed two of my four days of rail travel, a particular pleasure of mine, on my Britrail Pass. On the first trip I went from Kings Cross to Newcastle, stopping off at York on the way back. A few days later I went from Euston to Lancaster, an interesting place which I saw for the first time.
On the day before I left, after an off-again, on-again exchange of text messages, I met Jeremy Deller. He had been busy with the launch of his bouncy castle life-size replica of Stonehenge, a much publicised contribution to the Olympic arts festival, which will tour the country. We seemed to hit it off and our meeting was largely spent talking about Bruce Lacey, whom I worked with in my art event days, given that Jeremy was putting together a retrospective exhibition of Bruce’s work, and a shared interest in filming animals.
An only in London (arguably the world’s greatest store of human knowledge) moment. On a bus from Euston to Dunns bakery in Crouch End (worth a special journey), I noticed a shop in Caledonian Road with signage that I couldn’t believe I had read: Logman Ltd. Specialising in Watermelons, 308 Caledonian Road.
From London I flew to Amsterdam and stayed at the same hotel, as on my last visit in 2008. My plan was to take the train to new places as well as some old favourites. There was much that was interesting and charming in Utrecht, but I didn’t warm to it as much as I had to Leiden and Delft.
Groningen impressed me far more than Utrecht. It has canals and remnants of locks and sluices, a variety of splendid warehouses, merchants’ houses and some outstanding hofjes (alms houses) combining mellow buildings with tranquil gardens full of birdsong.
I made a point of revisiting Leiden and headed straight for the Hortus Botanicus. Because the Hortus’ most historic feature, the Clusius Garden, dating from 1594, had been relocated to its original site close to the entrance, my visit was not as memorable as in 2008, when I spent an enchanted hour locked inside its then walled enclosure overlooked by early 17th century houses. I also saw parts of Leiden that I had previously missed, most notably the motte castle with good views of the city from its battlements.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the Van Nelle building next to the railway line on the outskirts of Rotterdam on a rainy day. It was the one building I wanted to see. It ranks as one of the most influential buildings in modern architecture. I caught a bus near Rotterdam’s main station to the factory and had a good look at it from the main gate.
The rain ceased as we neared Delft and I got off the train. As with Leiden, I took in sights that I had not seen before, notably the Prinsenhof Palace, originally a mediaeval monastery, with its secluded formal garden. I lingered at the splendid 13th century Oude Kerk before setting off for Delft’s best known feature, the huge market place. I also rediscoverd and explored a 15th century water gate like the one in Vermeer’s glorious ‘View of Delft’
The famous cheese market was not operating on the day I went to Alkmaar. I strolled along Lange Straat which has some fine buildings. Several young women were having a lively lunch on a restaurant terrace. I soon arrived at the square where the cheese market is held and fittingly had bread and cheese for lunch. I explored the city‘s streets and canals extensively. The young women were still enjoying lunch when I passed them on my way back to the station.
Of all the lovely places I visited, I liked Amersfoort most. It is visibly mediaeval with extensive stretches of city wall, breached by gates, one the spectacular and elaborate Koppelpoort, a combined land and water gate. I loved the variety of scale of the buildings and the felicitous flow of urban spaces. The Dutch rail network is brilliant and apparently very well used. I can’t recall having to hang around long for the next train to catch.
On my return to England I took the train from Paddington to Taunton to spend a few days with Clive who lives in a village nearby. There was unusual excitement in the air this visit as Clive was about to take delivery of a brand new car and I was privileged to be with him at the time.
Our visit to Watchet was early in the evening and a bitter west wind was blowing from the sea. A drama was unfolding in the outer harbour. A yacht with two men onboard had run aground close to its tricky entrance. We did not stay to see how the drama ended.
The weather was mainly fine on the day we drove to Lacock in the new car. The village is owned by the National Trust. It is picture post card perfect, full of visitors and of buildings from the Middle Ages. The Abbey, founded in the 13th century is a short walk away. What made my day was the bronze cauldron in the Warming Room , as thick and heavy as a church bell, but with a smooth and polished surface. It is hard to believe that it was made in 1500.
We took the option of returning via Bradford-on-Avon. It is one of the most perfect small towns in Britain. Much of the town is built on a steep hill side and is accessed by flights of steps. On our perambulation we saw half-timbered houses, refined Georgian houses, two converted textile mills, the Saxon church and neighbouring mediaeval parish church. We also saw the splendid 14th century tithe barn.
Clive thought a visit to Coldharbour Mill might interest me. How right he was. The mill was built in 1799. I was thrilled with the restored 1821 working water wheel and the Engine House which contained two historic steam engines. Part of the mill still produces high quality worsted knitting yarns.
The next day I caught the train to Paddington and thence to Heathrow, to pick up a hire car to drive to Yorkshire. I base myself in a small hotel in a suburb of Keighley. I needed to replace some torn pyjamas and ended up travelling to Manchester by train and to an out of town shopping centre by bus. Fortunately the department store’s only pair of pyjamas which met my requirements were in my size.
On my way back to town, I stopped to see Daniel Liebeskind’s acclaimed Imperial War Museum and the Lowry Centre, one of the biggest and newest art centres in Britain. Stopping once more, I visited the world’s oldest railway station, Liverpool Road, built in 1830. As with my travels in Holland, the connections between trains and between buses were consistently fortunate. I had dinner at the Red Lion in Burnsall, an ancient and popular hostelry full of character, where one can reliably enjoy good food and good beer.
The day after, the weather forecast being encouraging, I set off for Kedleston Hall and Calke Abbey, two large country houses in Derbyshire. Kedleston was closed. So, I was told, was Calke Abbey. I had a good look at the outside of the house and the immediate grounds.
I adopted plan B and drove the few miles to Belper to see the second oldest fire-proof textile mill on earth. The oldest such mill is in Shrewsbury and is closed for refurbishment. The William Strutt mill is of cast iron column and beam construction with brick flooring. An excellent day out was capped off by a delectable curry at Mumtaz in Bradford.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield was next on my list. Because of the indifferent weather, I paid for a two hour rather than a five hour stay. The state of the art indoor galleries in their garden setting are impressive. Less so the rest of the 500 acre park where the sculptures are few and far between. I had a marvellous dinner, starting with a scrumptiously piquant amuse-bouche and concluding with a memorable soufflé desert at the Michelin starred Box Tree restaurant in Ilkley.
The following day I ventured into the Dales, on my preferred route to Wensleydale via Settle because it took me to the Ribblehead Viaduct. From Hawes I drove to Thwaite in Swaledale and crossed back to Wensleydale on a road which brings you close to the immense 14th century Castle Bolton. I then drove to Leyburn, a market town with two splendid squares and many attractive buildings, in one of which I had a very good afternoon tea.
On the Sunday of my stay I fancied a traditional Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. I had an excellent meal in deepest Nidderdale. Masham, is another of Wensleydale’s charming market towns with an immense square. I then drove to West Tanfield which has graced a number of the calendars I order from the UK each year. The village did not disappoint. Middleham, my next stop, is noted for its ruined royal castle.
On my last day in Yorkshire I chose to visit Knaresborough. I had a look at the castle which has good views into the narrow valley of the River Nidd from its rampart. The town has many old and interesting buildings. I had afternoon tea in Betty’s tea room in Ilkley, my usual toasted teacakes and raspberry jam, delicious.
My flight to Singapore left at about 10pm. I packed after breakfast and set off for London. It was about 2 o’clock when I took the Bolsover exit. I had a terrific time seeing exactly what I wanted to see of the castle and had lunch in the café. Fortunately, there were no traffic problems to delay me and I returned the car in plenty of time to check in for my flight.