Category Archives: uk

Wordless Wednesday #10: Celebrating friendship at the top of a tor

Four friends celebrating a climb up Roo Tor in Dartmoor, England

© 2013 Rose Knapton

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Back in England and still on the Banksy trail, this time in Bristol

Art goes technical with a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Modern art: art that requires a car, an iPhone app and a sat nav

Back in England, the pursuit of Banksy continued. Whilst London appeared to be a bit too much of a widespread maze in which to get lost, Bristol – Banksy’s hometown – seemed the better option to seek out some of his work. Real life work in real life places. No prints this time.

It was to be a trip centered on technology. There are benefits, apparently.

D-man, a long time fan of Banksy’s work, downloaded the Banksy Tour iPhone app. We wove in and out of city traffic, up dead-end streets and down bustling suburb highstreets in our hire car, tapping coordinates and street names into the sat nav and scanning sides of buildings as we drove by.

Some works no longer existed, others were carefully preserved. It felt a little like a grown-up treasure hunt.  Each time that we finally found a piece I was filled with an indescribable bubble of something, not too dissimilar to joy or satisfaction, maybe, and we’d park up and go and stand and stare for a few moments, occasionally muttering critiques too insignificant to report.

Maybe the most gratifying part of this urban adventure was spotting unknown works that may or may not have been anything to do with Banksy, pieces that acknowledged his style, themes and timing.

Because in amongst a sea of scribbles and expressions, there are some conscious pieces, pieces that are angry and articulate and beautiful, and they’re not all by Banksy.

Heavy weaponry - original Banksy work given a chance to fade

Heavy weaponry – original Banksy work given a chance to fade

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it's back

You can just about make out bits of an elephant with a rocket launcher on it’s back

Early Banksy contributions

Early Banksy contributions

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

A framed rat trap up a steep side street

Rose in a rat trap

Rose in a rat trap

The mild mild west

The mild mild west

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Well hung lover, naked man, hanging man, whatever you want to call it

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Is it a Banksy? Policemen are often part of his cast, but the tag says otherwise

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Banksy has previously juxtaposed children with amunition, but the tag suggests this might not be his

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across... courtesy of Banksy?

Shopping astronaut that we accidentally stumbled across… courtesy of Banksy?

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Wordless Wednesday #9: Happiness, however you look at it

A sign seen outside a pub in Herefordshire that reads: Everyone who passes through this door brings happiness. Some by entering. Some by leaving.

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Wordless Wednesday #8: A peaceful beach moment in Devon

The quiet beach of Instow near Bideford in North Devon. Flat sand and a little sailing boat to the right. No people to be seen.

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Wordless Wednesday #7: Tourists lost in time

Tourists looking at a map in a square in Hereford, in front of a 17th century black and white building.

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Wordless Wednesday # 2: Gloucestershire breather

#2 Coopers-Hill-Gloucestershire

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The beauty spots of northeast England

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

My visit back to the UK coincided with the start of summertime and I wanted to show D-man a little of my English life. We had left Stroud and Gloucestershire behind, crossed through seven counties in five hours and were now cutting through the northern section of the North York Moors.

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Revisiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park

Five minutes away from our destination I stopped the car and stood and gazed over the fields of my childhood, this green valley of protection and dry stone walling. Down there was my family home, down there were my mum and dad and many of the people who knew me through my growing up. It was the first time I’d been back to the North Yorkshire Moors National Park in nearly two years and I felt a flutter of excitement. Spring sunshine sealed the feeling.

Some days later I headed over to Farndale to catch the end of the daffodil season. Like the dwindling display of flowers, the crowds too had left this beauty spot, and we walked quietly and undisturbed through puddles of squelch alongside river banks loaded with long grasses, wild garlic and forget-me-nots. The river ran brown and swollen and spilled out over the pathway.

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The daff walk at Farndale begins

The last of the daffodils

The last of the daffodils

Sharing the path

Sharing the path

Garlic goes wild

Garlic goes wild

My favourite childhood tree

Revisiting my favourite childhood tree

Views out of the tree

Views out of the tree

Moving on to more historical and quaint sights, I took trips out to Saltburn, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby. From winding mazes of tightly packed streets through to pirate graves and a history of smuggling, I was transported back to my childhood.

A Saltburn pier stroll

A Saltburn pier stroll

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Saltburn pier views with a fairly crowded lineup out in the surf

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Surfers braving the North Sea chill at Saltburn

Robin Hood's Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay

A moody day at Robin Hood's Bay...

A moody day at Robin Hood’s Bay…

...and yet the icecream van was doing business.

…and yet the icecream van was doing business.

The snug streets of Robin Hood's Bay

The snug streets of Robin Hood’s Bay

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Whitby Abbey with the whalebone arch in the foreground

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Views down from Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Pirate graves at Whitby Abbey

Finally, a drive to York saw us dodging ambling sheep and took us past the Millennium rock and along the Roman road past Castle Howard. The city streets resonated with tourists and shoppers and echoed with the click of cameras. We sat down to a British pub dinner at one of the oldest inns, right in the heart of the city, glimpsing York Minster through gaps in the cosy courtyard.

Roman roads near Castle Howard

Roman roads near Castle Howard

York Minster intricacies

York Minster intricacies

Stepping back in time

Stepping back in time

D-man runs up to Clifford's Tower in York

D-man runs up to Clifford’s Tower in York

And then before I’d had time to consider touching the Roman heritage of Hadrian’s Wall and the wild beauty of the Scottish borders, to trek the coast-to-coast route or amble up the landmark of Roseberry Topping, our time up north was over.

The northeast of England is, despite what anyone might say, full of hidden beauty spots, should you care to look.

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Is cheese chasing just good British fun or something more serious?

The hill, if you look closely

The hill, if you look closely

Dangerous, stupid or just a bit of English fun? It’s definitely one of the more bizarre British customs that I’ve come across.

Bad press surrounding the cheese rolling competition held annually in Gloucestershire had seemingly promoted the event. Any publicity is, well, publicity, I guess. Local and international competitors gathered, ready to run a race down a near vertical strip of pitted farmland and claim victory in front of an adoring – and somewhat tipsy – crowd.

Take Kenny Rackers, for example, a 27 year old who travelled over from the US with only one thing on his mind: to win. ‘I came 3,000 or 4,000 miles just for this race,’ he told journalists. ‘I trained a long time for this and got hurt on the hill practising. I came three days early and I took a bad spill, but I came to win.’

Having ambled up along a winding road into what felt like private farmland, I just made it in time for the end of the first race. I nestled my way in to the front of the crowds and there stood Kenny, clad in stars and stripes and holding high the mighty cheese. ‘I came over specially for this and I did what I had to do to win,’ he said. People queued to get pictures. Celebrity cheese chaser. Nice work.

...closer...

…closer…

...and finally... Cooper's Hill...

…and finally… Cooper’s Hill…

...and crowds.

…and crowds.

A moment of celebrity

A moment of celebrity

I looked up at the top of the hill, some 200 metres away. Clustered with squatting people, it looked as though they were having to hold on to tufts of grass to avoid falling down. Occasionally someone did. The photos, quite frankly, do not do the steepness justice. Coopers Hill has become infamous for this one day, once a year. The rest of the year, though? Pah. Mountain goats, maybe?

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

Top of the hill crowds nearly spill over

I watched the next race, a flurry of tumbling bodies, bouncing bodies. The cheese, replaced this year by a foam replica, hit a chunk of earth and split off to the side. Legs struggled to keep up with downhill momentum, tumbles followed tumbles and tripped others up. At the finish line men walked around dazed, a blend of naked torsos and smudged mud make-up.

And so it repeated and repeated until I watched a man flip and then stop still. He tried to shuffle, but then lifted his leg. His foot stuck out sideways, and a sea of people groaned.

And it's all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

And it’s all over when one of one guys does some serious damage

The free for all downhill scramble

The free for all downhill scramble

Home time?

Home time?

The crowd, revved on a good dose of bystander adrenaline and cider blur, started to disperse to the tune of an ambulance siren. Paramedics brought out the stretcher and the health and safety boohoos rubbed their hands in delight with the ammunition newly granted to them.

Another victory for sensibility over tradition? Let’s hope not. At least the grandmother who had until this year provided the cheese could rest assured that the police wouldn’t be knocking on her door, again. ‘They threatened me, saying I would be wholly responsible if anyone got injured,’ she told the Telegraph days before the event.

Yet the appeal of the event doesn’t seem to be fading. Thousands of people still climbed up to Coopers Hill to watch the somersaults, and plenty of people still entered the competition knowing full well the dangers involved. Like the running of the tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, this event has associated risks. What’s wrong with the competitors taking some responsibility for themselves?

So is it dangerous, stupid or just a bit of fun? Quirky, sure. I’ll go with that.

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Going green in Gloucestershire

Sun blazing down on us, a bitey breeze keeping things cool, it was one of those perfect British days where you drink in the freshness of the air and turn your face up to a lightly white streaked sky.

Marching across the green grass fields of Gloucester towards a spring festival at an alternative education centre, I felt cheery being back in the UK. If I’d known that within a few minutes I’d be playing the moon in a zodiac demonstration and introducing D-man to my yearly childhood practise of maypole dancing, then maybe there would have been an even bigger bounce in my step. Maybe.

England, my sister said, was showing me its best side, a gold explosion of dandelions and sunshine, new life bursting out of branches and the otherside of a wintertime, warmth finally giving all its inhabitants some vitamin D therapy after two long, wet summers.

England, my sister told me, was persuading me to not give up on my home country, totally.

Views down over Stroud

Views down over Stroud

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Sisters reunited, nephew introduced

Country traditions live on

Country traditions live on

The following day brought more moments in amongst the greenery, this time within the grounds of an imposing country manor. We walked off a locally sourced Sunday lunch and played poohsticks on a trickling stream where swans and cygnets persisted to paddle against the current. We ambled up past crumbling stone buildings and into yet more green fields, nodding good afternoon to other walkers.

Some English formality

Some English formality

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Hotel room with a cemetary view

Trimmed lawns

Trimmed lawns

Springtime in an English country garden

Springtime in an English country garden

Cygnets choose the hardest route

Cygnets choose the hardest route

And it all felt, well, quintessentially British countryside. Far from the rugged and somewhat aimless adventuring I’ve been doing in the last two years, it was not without charm.

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Only an Aussie would see a snake in England

Pic from wikipedia.org

Pic from wikipedia.org

With the myth of the venomous daddy longlegs truly busted, the only deadly creature I’m aware that we have in England is the adder, a slithery snake of a thing often seen sporting a brown zigzag overcoat.

‘Just ‘adder’?’ asked D-man, ‘not ‘death adder’?’   

‘Erm,’ I thought quickly, racking my brain for any hidden information that might boost the reputation of our only venomous beast. I found nothing. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s just an adder. But it can kill.’ 

Rewind back from this conversation, maybe ten minutes in time.

Having been in the UK for less than a week, D-man and I had trained west from London and were now enjoying a British springtime walk in the woods overlooking Stroud in Gloucestershire. An early summer sun shone down through spindly branches on which bright green buds unfurled and leaves leftover from last autumn lay crunchy underfoot. D-man suddenly stopped.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘I just saw something. Do you have snakes here?’ He didn’t move.

‘Yep. Where did it go? What did it look like?’

D-man pointed to a heap of dead branches and leaves. I rustled the pile with my feet, but he pulled me back.

‘Careful!’ he said, ‘Get away!’

And there it was: the different attitudes that Aussies and Brits have to snakes. For me, having grown up in England, the sight of a snake is a cause for celebration. On the few occasions that I have seen grass snakes and adders I have sat and watched and followed them when they moved.

D-man, an Australian through-and-through, has grown up with regular sightings of some of the world’s deadliest snakes and has had a healthy fear and respect instilled in him through snake awareness classes in school and real life survival tales of friends of friends.

Would the adder have come for me, had I disturbed it? Possibly. Would I have died, had it bitten me? Probably not. What I didn’t tell D-man was that no one has died from an adder bite in the UK since 1975. Instead I let him run with the idea that I was both curious and courageous in my pursuit of a snake sighting.

Or just completely stupid. And totally, totally un-Aussie.

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