Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Singing Again in St John's Church Devizes

St John's Church with its Norman tower.

 The lovely medieval church of St John was the setting for Devizes Chamber Choir's spring concert on Saturday evening, April 27th.  We rehearsed for two hours in the afternoon, and sounded, well, not too good.  I think we were all holding back a little, and saving our voices for the evening's performance, which of course was wonderful.

We sang Mozart's "Te Deum," a little hesitantly I think, but by the time we had warmed up a little, our performance of Cherubini's "Requiem" was really wonderful.  It is not an easy work to sing, (what is easy to sing!) but with the organ accompaniment we sang really well.  Our long notes, sung very quietly, were well sustained, and without the need for everyone to gulp for air midway between the bars.  We tried to stagger our breathing, so that the sustained notes sound even.  Not easy to do! 

The Nave, looking towards the audience seats.

 The "Requiem" lasts for over an hour, but during the evening we had an interval in the middle of the work, in order for the choir and the audience to enjoy a glass of wine.  I did not partake, as a little wine goes straight to my head, and I didn't want to sing the second half feeling slightly tipsy in church!

The Nave, looking towards the high altar.

I'm hoping to place some photos of the choir here soon,  that's when a friend sends me some he took of us standing and looking pleased with ourselves after the concert.  I spoke to friends afterwards, and all commented on how lovely the choir had sounded.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

On Windmill Hill.

On Friday morning we took another walk around Windmill Hill, the site of several Bell Barrows, and a place of human habitation dating back to Stone Age man some 3,500 years ago.  We did the walk in reverse this time, starting at the bottom of the long, steady climb up to the top of the hill.   It was bracing out there in the cold wind, and we all agreed, that the fresh air was good for our health.  We do prefer sitting in pubs, which is also good for our health, and after the 4.5 mile walk, with had a good lunch and drinks in the "Red Lion," that lies within Avebury stone circle. This World Heritage Site is akin to Stonehenge, its more famous neighbour, which lies some 35 miles away on Salisbury Plain.   

Many sheep were safely grazing in the fields, and, as the sign says, it is advisable to keep dogs on a lead.  We picked our way through sheep droppings, and stopped to read the sign board, that gave us information about the barrows and the former hilltop site of human habitation.  It is assumed this was a summer camp, as the hill is very exposed.  It is thought that ancient man would have built more sheltered accommodation from the harsh winters lower down in the woodland and fields near the River Kennet, the prime source of water.

Three distant ladies walking towards the rainstorm.

The rain clouds followed our walk, but the downpours stayed distant, and luckily we escaped a soaking.   I later found out that in Devizes the heavens had opened a couple of times that morning, with torrential rain and hailstones as big as marbles raining down!

Stone hugging in Avebury.  

No visit to Avebury is complete without a visit to hug the stones.   In their presence, it is difficult to imagine how ancient people, with primitive ropes and pulleys could have possible erected these stones.  The stone circle is surround by a circular ditch, dug by hand to a depth of 20ft.  It must have taken many man hours to move the earth with primitive buckets and spades.  While I hugged a stone to the left in the above photo, Fran tried to topple it over from the right!  Fortunately he did not succeed!  The "Red Lion" is hidden from view behind the megalith.

A Wiltshire, thatched farmhouse.

This  house is typical of the many thatched farmhouses to be seen in the area.  We thought, that probably this was originally several farm labourers' cottages, now joined together to form one splendid house.   Note the ladder, seen in the right of the photo.  It allows a cat to roam in and out of the house at will, and a cat flap was at the top of the little ladder.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Repairs at Prison Bridge, and Trainee Lock Keepers on the Flight.

In March 2012 a young man drove his car through the parapet of Prison Bridge into the canal.  He had been out drinking in a local pub, and his two friends managed to get out of the submerged car, but sadly the driver could not be rescued from his upturned vehicle, and he drowned at the scene.  Since this time, the bridge had been cordoned off, but at long last this week, work has started to restore the parapet.  The bridge is a listed structure, and must be returned to its original condition.   Traffic lights will control the flow of traffic for the next 8 weeks, which threatens to cause long delays at the height of the rush hour.  The lights will be manually operated  during peak times.   

The scaffolding is being erected this week, and half the road is cordoned off for one-way traffic operation, to create a safe working environment in which they can work.   Canal boats can still pass under the bridge, as can walkers on the towpath.   Many of the coping stones from the parapet fell into the canal or landed on the bank during the accident, and these will be restored to their original position on the bridge.

Trainee lock keepers at lock 32.

Since April 2012 "The River and Canal Trust" has taken over the running of the waterways from "British Waterways," and every attempt is being made to encourage people to volunteer for various duties on the canals.   The Caen Hill flight of 16 continuous locks needs keepers to help boaters through the locks and control the water supply.  Accidents do happen, and boats have sunk in the locks, so the attendance of several keepers is needed at all times to regulate boat movements and prevent accidents.

The swan looks on at the trainee lock keepers.

Swans are nesting beside the locks at the moment, which adds another problem.  These birds are very agressive and territorial in the breeding season, and each pair needs to be kept in its own territory.  When allowed into the lock with a boat, they swim down into the next pound and fight other swans.   Feathers then fly!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Out Boating on a "Hen Night."

The "Bride to Be" arrives with her friends in a stretched limo.

The bride to be and guests arrived at 6.30pm for their "Hen Night" on the Kenavon Venture.  As the car doors open, several slightly tipsy ladies spilled out.   They had been on a car cruise around the Wiltshire countryside, drinking alcohol the while!   Granny was there too, and hopefully had a good time with the girls!

Just a small amount of alcohol is necessary for a good night out.

One bowl of punch contained alcohol, the other just fruit juice!   I drank the first version!  We had trouble with the CD player at the start of the cruise, and were two miles up the canal before the music began to play.  That immediately changed the atmosphere, and dancing among the balloons, with drinks in hand, began. 

The wedding couple ducks and friends decorated the "Hen Night" cake.

Someone had prepared some lovely seedy rolls filled with coronation chicken, which proved very popular with me!   I sat on the steps of the boat, watching the evening light fall over the canal, whilst eating the delicious rolls and sipping punch.  Everyone had a good time, even the youngest guest who slept most of the time in her carrier.  Baby Janey is just 2 months old!   

The decorated boat about to take its second cruise of the evening.

The "Kenavon Venture" sets off into the dark.

The boat lit with fairy lights with flags flying.   

Saturday, 20 April 2013

A Walk in the Sunshine!

Stopping for a chat at Rusty Lane Swing Bridge.

 Ahhh, it was so warm and sunny, a morning, when for the first time this year we could walk in the fresh air without hats, winter coats and gloves.   After a 15 minute bus ride from Devizes, we had alighted in Seend, and walked down Rusty Lane to the canal, for the 4.75 walk back to town.  It was warm, no gale of wind blew, and we could bask in the sunlight!  Wonderful!

 Stopping for another chat at the bottom of the Caen Hill flight of locks.

At this point we had walked 3 miles, and needed a "sweety break" and a sit down.  The problem with sitting down, is that eventually, you have to get up and get the stiff muscles working again.  In the middle of the photo you can see the Caen Hill flight of 16 consecutive locks.  The entire flight consists of  29 locks, with these 16 following on, one after the other. 

The "Black Horse" public house.

We stopped for lunch in the "Black Horse," a canalside pub, which burnt down a few years ago. Now rebuilt and beautifully refurbished, we sat at a round table to enjoy a good meal and drink beer!  Cheers!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Out in the Rain and Puddles at Windmill Hill and Avebury.

The weather forecast said rain, but we set out nonetheless, only to get soaked up in the wild open spaces around "Windmill Hill."  The  started the walk around 10.30 in the dry, and wandered through Winterbourne Monkton churchyard, and then into this lovely little church of St Mary Magdalene, built in the 12th century, and was mentioned as being on this site in 1133.   We went inside at took a look at the two large tree trunks, now supporting part of the nave, but which originally supported the separate campanile.   It was dry here, where we had shelter, but as soon as we walked up onto the downs and into the wild open spaces of the Marlborough Downs, the heavens open and we all became saturated!  We hid under our umbrellas and plodded on regardless with true British grit!

Walking out towards a distant Windmill Hill.

We were doing ok, but someone offered me a helpful walking pole, and as I turned to take it, I fell into one of these ruts!   That will teach me not to pay attention to my feet!  We walked around the foot of Windmill Hill, and then back to Avebury.

Ever onwards towards Avebury and the "Red Lion."

The group had straggled out at this point, and those up the front, were destined to get to the bar first, and order a well deserved pint of beer!  Cheers!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The X72 Bus to Sells Green, then back past Foxhangers Marina and up the Flight to Devizes.

The new marina at Foxhangers opened in 2011, and provides moorings around the year for boaters at the bottom of the Caen Hill Flight of 29 locks.  This lift bridge reminds me of several Dutch paintings, and the similar bridges that are built on the Dutch canals.  I have dust on my camera lens, hence the grey blobs in the blue, cloudless sky! A Dutch barge is moored just inside the entrance to the right.  I have friends whose narrowboat is moored here, and I must pay them a visit and see the lovely facilities available to boaters on the site.  There is a laundry, shower block and a small grocery store, together with a chandlery  selling gas bottles, and other small pieces of equipment for boaters.   I must have a look around one of these days.

 Bob Preston, the lock keeper in his yellow jacket, checking lock 21 on the Caen Hill flight. 

Just out of view to the right of the photo is the Lower Foxhangers Back Pumping station, that pumps water to lock 50, at the top of the flight in Devizes.  Before back pumping was introduced in 1990, the only source of water for each lock was that saved in the large side pounds of each lock.  Water shortages was common on the whole length of the canal, except in places where either the River Kennet or Avon had been canalized.  In the 19th century boats worked continuously for 24 hours, and the flight was lit with oil lamps during the night.

A Solar Farm at Lower Foxhangers providing some electricity for the pumping station.

I hadn´t walked this section of the towpath for some months, (it kept raining!) and I was very surprised to come across this new addition to green power production.  This will become a common sight, as more land is used to produce power for future generations.  The sign board to the right of the photo gives information about the Caen Hill flight, and a short history of the canal.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Sunday Morning's Walk Along Boundary Ditch with the Plants and Animals.

We manged to walk the "Devizes Bounds West," on a sunny Sunday  morning,  the first time for months that it has been dry enough to venture out on the 4.5 mile walk across boggy farmyards and waterlogged fields and ditches.  It was so good to feel warm again, and not have to wear my much disliked velvet hat!   We walked down into the farmyard at Whistley Lane, and watched as a man fed his chickens and gathered the eggs. The chickens looked perky and ruffled their feathers in the warm sunshine.   One cockerell presided over his marmalade coloured hens, as they scratched in the hay for morsels to eat.

 The freshly gathered hen's eggs. 

We walked on up the hill, where two dogs came running out of a near by garden and barked us on our way.  We traced "Boundary Ditch," the old medieval ditch that once surrounded Devizes, and up over the stile to the hilltop,  where we met a gale of wind blowing through the leafless trees.  The bluebells are late blooming,  but the wood anemones, celandine and primroses have opened their petals along the windy, narrow path between the tall trees.    We dropped down into Hartmore Lane, and into the farmyard with its row of young cattle munching the hay.

The young cattle chew the cud and ponder the meaning of life.

Primroses in full bloom in Hartmore Lane.

St John's Churchyard and a bank of daffodils among the gravestones.

St John's Church is one of three large medieval churches in Devizes.  It is, with St James's Church, still used for services.  The third church of St Mary the Virgin is now redundant, and plans are afoot to turn it into an arts centre for the people of Devizes.  I have seen the plans for this exciting development, and with the addition of an extension on the east side, to provide modern facilities, it will be used for singing, dancing, dramatic performances and as a meeting place for local groups.  We parted company here after our interesting walk in the sunshine and wind, and went our separate ways.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Trowbridge Industrial Town Trail

 The group outside Handle House, a place to store and dry  teasels, used for napping woolen cloth.  Only a few of these buildings still remain in the UK, and this one is used as a restaurant.

It was freezing cold on Friday morning, when we stood at the bus stop in Devizes waiting for the Trans Wilts Express bus to take us to Trowbridge, for the start of an Industrial Town Trail. The town is not an attractive place, having been wrecked by its road system and neglected historic buildings, but with a map and led by our trusty leader, we were able to trace the town's interesting history as an industrial centre since the 14th century.  

For much of this time, Trowbridge was the centre for the production of high quality woolen cloth.  Until the spinning and weaving industry became mechanised in the late 18th century, most of the production processes, took place in individuals home.  Families depended on cloth production for their livelihood, and worked in rooms with long windows, to enable as much light as possible to enter.   When the process became mechanised with the introduction of steam powered looms, whole families were forced to work in the newly established mills, which became death traps for all and sundry.  Small children gathered the cotton detritus from under the spinning jennies and looms, and breathed in the dust that damaged their lungs.   

 A loom in Trowbridge Museum.

The museum contains many looms and equipment used in the weaving process, and shows videos of the history of the town and scenes of the working looms.  The mills must have been very noisy and dangerous places in which to work.    

The BBC film of "North and South," by Elizabeth Gaskell, contains many interesting scenes  filmed in a working mill.   Part One deals with the control the owner had over his workers, and the ever present danger of fire in the mill.   Cotton dust, thrown up from the spinning process, filled the air, and was easily ignited by anyone foolish enough to smoke.    One such mill in Trowbridge burnt down, with the heavy iron looms and other equipment crashing through the floors into the basement.

 Courts Mill near the River Biss.

The town is full of these interesting old mills, standing derelict at the moment, but with plans for redevelopment into apartments.   The last working mill closed in the 1960's. 

Model of Trowbridge Castle. The museum stands on the site of the old castle, built in the 12th century.  

Trowbridge is mentioned in the "Doomsday Book," and is thought to mean the, "Wooden or Tree Bridge," which crosses the River Biss.   Some water driven mills were built in Trowbridge, but the water source was intermittent and not entirely adequate.  The introduction of "Boulton and Watt" steam pumps in the late 18th century, enabled cloth production on an industrial scale,  and the town became the biggest producer of wool cloth in the West of England.  

The only working Boulton and Watt steam engine in its original situation,  pumps water into the Kennet and Avon canal on special open days at Crofton pumping station.  Search "Crofton Pumping Station" in Google for a history of the pumps and details of working days.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Devizes to Westminster 125 Mile Canoe Race.

The start line.

The supposed spring and Easter have arrived again, and the annual world famous canoe race started on Good Friday from Devizes Wharf.  Canoeists come from around the world to take part in this long distance canoe race, which finishes in London outside the House's of Parliament.  The conditions this year were the worst for sometime, and at one stage the organisers considered cancelling the race on the grounds of extremely cold weather.  The photo above shows a twosome at the start of the race at the Wharf.  These two have 125 miles to paddle to the finish line, fingers crossed that they make it!  I have since read, that over a third of the racers give up because of the cold weather conditions.

 Canoeists preparing their boats and equipment outside the "Wharf Theatre."

Officials this year were rigorous in making sure that all the participants were well prepared for the cold weather.  Early on Friday morning, when the elite crews started, there was ice on the canal, and several canoeists had to run along the towpath carrying their canoes.  Later narrowboats moving along the water broke the ice, and late starters reaped the benefit of an ice free canal.   Timing is all, as the canoeist aim to reach Teddington lock when the tide is going out, and they can benefit from the fast flowing water.

A view from the start, overlooking the whart.

The first race began in 1946/1947, when a few servicemen and a farmer chatted in a local pub about paddling from Devizes to London, just for fun!   Someone later offered a prize for the best time, and every year since then the race has taken place, with teams from all around the world participating.  It has been cancelled on a few occasions, the last being during the outbreak of  Foot and Mouth disease in 2002.