Coombe Down and the story of Bath Stone

Last week Steve the leader of our walk in the past  walking group asked us to meet at the Museum of Bath Stone. in Coombe Down to the east of Bath.  I have to admit my heart sank.  After all quarries are not the most exciting subject. When I was growing up much of Bath was covered in soot from coal fires and steam trains and I always thought that Bath stone made the buildings look dreary. However when Bath was in its heyday in the late 18th century the honey coloured stone must have gleamed in the sunshine. Nowadays planning officials still insist that all building in the centre of town is made from the local stone.

The Coombe Down museum of Bath Stone 

I arrived early and  was able to take the time to look round the small free museum.  Visitors were watching a short film about the Coombe Down stabilization project.   Bath Stone is an oolitic limestone that formed the bed of a shallow sea in the Jurassic period. Surface stone can be used for dry stone walls but building material is found at a depth of a few feet. It has probably been used for local buildings since Roman times as it can be easily worked.

Ralph Allen who built the nearby Prior Park was one of the early quarry owners in Coombe Down. He developed the idea of quarrying stone and then using the flat bed of the quarry to build cottages for his workers. This was fine and some of his early cottages were built by John Wood who also designed the Royal Crescent.  He built rails to send carts laden with stone down the hill now known as Ralph Allen Drive where they could be unloaded onto barges and the stone taken into the centre of Bath.

However later quarry owners decided to extract stone from underground tunnels and build the houses on top. In the 1980’s people living in the expensive houses with views over the Bath sky line found cracks starting to appear in their homes and they were unable to sell them. A survey was carried out and found that many of the pillars that were supporting the roof of the quarries were unsafe. Surveyors estimated that about 500 houses were at risk.

Eventually it was decided to fill the quarries with concrete at a cost of over £150 million . A colony of rare horseshoe bats were found to be living in one of the quarries and an extra six million pounds was provided to save their cave and now they are even provided with heating.  The concrete foam used would have covered a football pitch to a depth of ninety metres.

Walking through the woods
Our walking group. I am fifth from the left.

We  walked round Coombe Down and admired the houses that had been saved. Our group also  rambled through the fields and bluebell woods enjoying the bird song and spring flowers.

We were able to find the cottage where Harry Patch was born in in 1898. His father and grandfather were stone masons in Coombe Down and when he died in 2009 at the age of 111 he was the last fighting Tommy from world war one. We walked down to the nearby village of Monkton Coombe to find his grave in the churchyard.

The grave of Harry Patch with poppy wreath
The grave of Harry Patch in Monkton Combe churchyard.

William Smith and the first geological map.

One of the early quarry owners was a man named William Smith. He was a blacksmith’s son from Churchill in  Oxfordshire who had spent time surveying the route of the local canal and also helping the local coal mine owners find good places to sink mine shafts. He noticed that the rock was in different strata and that fossils appeared in different layers. His work took him all over England and he used the information he had obtained to produce the first geological map of England which is remarkably similar to a modern map.

A plaque marking the cottage where William Smith lived.
Memorial on William Smith’s cottage.

Unfortunately his quarry was not a success and he spent some time in prison for debt His life has been commemorated by Simon Winchester in his book  “the map that changed the world” and by a museum which he designed himself the rotunda in Scarborough.

This post will be added to a link party for blogging grandmother’s. This week I was lucky enough to be the subject of a meet the grandmother blogger so if you want to find out more about me click here.

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Glastonbury more than just a music festival

A lilac and yellow shop. Fairyland aromatics which sells essential oils.

In a few weeks time, thousands of music lovers will again be descending on the small Somerset town of Glastonbury for the music festival. Local rumour has it that Paul McCartney might take to the pyramid stage this year. For a few days a huge tented city will appear and ageing hippies and others will be able to escape their everyday lives.

However today I am going to introduce you to the town of Glastonbury rather than Michael Eavis’s farm. Tickets to the festival sold out long ago and you can no longer gain entry to Worthy farm by climbing the fence.

People climbing to the top of the Tor
The church tower at the top of Glastonbury Tor. photo W.J. Fraser

Glastonbury is situated on the Somerset levels a few miles from Wells. A round grass covered outcrop of sandstone known as Glastonbury tor rises to over 500 feet nearby and is visible for miles around. people have lived in the area since Neolithic times and  one of the oldest roads ever discovered is close by. It is known as the sweet track after Ray Sweet who discovered it in the 1970’s.    Tree trunks which were laid to provide a track over nearby marshes have been dated by dendrochronology to   3,800 BC. The peat soil preserved the wood.

Glastonbury abbey is the earliest Christian monastic site in Britain and by Domesday it was the wealthiest abbey in England. One of its abbots St. Dunstan devised the coronation service that is still used today including that for Queen Elizabeth 11. It featured in Mathew Paris’s map of the world of 1250 and continues to attract visitors from around the globe.

Glastonbury, Myths and Legends

A sign showing where the tombs of Arthur and Guivivere were found
The monks of Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere.

According to local folklore the nearby camp at Cadbury was the Camelot of Arthurian legend. When Cadbury camp was excavated archaeologists found evidence  that it had indeed once housed an important person. Glastonbury itself has been associated with Avalon where Arthur is said to have fought his last battle.

Monks at Glastonbury abbey claimed to have found the coffins of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century. However this was shortly after a fire at the abbey and the more cynical among us might think that they saw it as a good way to raise funds for the restoration.  Part of the myth is that Arthur is still sleeping and that if England is in danger he will awake to save the day. There was renewed interest in this during the second world war.

Another legend about Glastonbury is that Joseph of Arimathea the man who looked after Christ’s  body after the crucifixion visited Glastonbury and where he touched the ground with his walking stick a holy tree grew.

A blooming Hawthorne in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey said to be a descendent of the original Glastonbury thorn
A Glastonbury thorn in the grounds of Glastonbury abbey

The Glastonbury thorn is a hybrid Hawthorne tree and there is a specimen in the abbey grounds.

Not your average high street

A lady offering tarot readings
A tarot reader had set up stall outside the church

Nowadays Glastonbury is a strange mixture of Christian and Pagan. You can still visit the ruins of Glastonbury abbey and say a quiet prayer in St. Patrick’s chapel. But  in the high street, shops sell crystals and magic potions. When we were there this week a group of men dressed as Morris dancers were parading through the town carrying a tree trunk which was destined to become the new maypole. Many of the female onlookers had colourful long skirts, embroidered blouses and flowers in their hair and the men had long hair and beards. We climbed up the Tor and were accompanied by a group performing some sort of eastern meditation to the sound of a single drum.

The cat and Cauldron.
Supplies for any visiting witches
A narrow shopping arcade
The viaduct shopping passage

May day is an important date in the pagan calendar and I felt Harry Potter and friends would have felt at home.

If you want to find out more I recommend this website Normal for Glastonbury

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Two CADW sites to visit near Chepstow

After fifty years tolls have been removed from the Severn bridges which link England and Wales. As we can cross the river Severn for free we decided  to revisit a couple of our favourite places in Monmouth, Tintern Abbey and Caerleon Roman camp this Easter.  Both  are managed by CADW, the organisation which looks after historical sites in Wales. If you enjoy visiting historical sites it is a good idea to take out an annual membership which allows free entry to all the CADW sites.  For senior citizens like us it is £28.50 a year. Once in Wales both sites can be accessed easily from the M4 and are well signposted.

Carleon Roman Fort

Our first outing was to Caerleon.

A plan of the carleon barracks
Part of the remains of the barracks

Carleon which is just outside Newport was known as Isca by the Romans and is on the banks of the river Usk. Founded in A.D.  75 as the headquarters of the second Augustan legion. it was one of only three permanent legionary sites in Britain and unlike the other two in Chester and York it has not been built on. This means that archaeologists including  the BBC time team have been able to make significant finds.

At one time almost 5,000 Roman soldiers were quartered here. The Roman museum is shut for repairs until the Autumn but Caerleon is still worth visiting. As well as the most complete remains of barracks any where in Europe  we were able to see the amphitheatre where soldiers would have trained and gladiators fought. This is the best preserved Amphitheatre in Britain.

The Amphitheatre at Carleon
Part of the amphitheatre at Caerleon

For me the most impressive part of the site are the Roman baths. They were more like a modern sports centre with an indoor exercise hall and even changing rooms with underfloor heating. They also had hot and cold swimming pools. The remains are covered and have been enhanced with digital technology and impressive lighting.  Children can take part in interactive quizzes.

A holograph of a swimmer in the baths
Digital technology is used to give the impression of a swimmer in the Baths.

To find out more click here Cadw Carleon Roman Remains

The amphitheatre and barracks are free to visit but there is a small charge for the Baths. CADW put on special events throughout the year when we visited staff were blowing up duck balloons for an Easter hook a duck game in the Baths.

The Wye

The river flowing through woodland
The river Wye. England is on the left and Wales on the right.

Our second outing was a trip up the Wye valley to Tintern. The Wye river marks the border between Monmouth and Gloucestershire or to put it another way between England and Wales. The deep wooded valley is a favourite destination for tourists and the river itself is popular for canoes and Kayaks. There is also a long distance footpath for walkers.

The footpath through the woods
Part of the long distance footpath along the Wye.

TIntern Abbey

Our destination was Tintern: the site of a ruined Cistercian abbey. The Cistercians were a monastic order from France. The monks combined prayer with labour on the fields  and the order became very rich thanks to the wool trade. The abbey was built in the gothic style between 1361 and 1550. Like many monasteries in Britain it was dissolved by Henry VIIII  but the fact that so much of the stonework survives is a tribute to the skill of those early builders.

Stone columns inside Tintern Abbey
The interior of the abbey. The figures give some idea of the scale of the building.

The site is now cared for by CADW who organise a programme of activities. When we visited a handler was giving a falconry display.

A falconer with a long white beard holding a kestrel.
A falconer with a kestrel.

Tintern itself is a small village with several gift shops and restaurants.

To find out more. click here Tintern Abbey

There is a small charge for entry. We parked at the nearby Anchor inn and were able to claim the cost of parking against the cost of an ice cream.

Cardiff Review of the RHS flower show

Crowds queuing to enter the show ~RHS cardiff

 

A visit to the RHS flower show in Cardiff.

This weekend we visited Cardiff, the capital of Wales. It is a short hop across the Severn bridge from Bristol and we were able to catch a bus from Bristol to Newport and change for Cardiff.

We wanted to go to the RHS flower show which is held annually in Bute Park next to Cardiff Castle. The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity  which was set up to encourage an interest in gardening.  Cardiff flower show is the first show of the season and is held in April  This means that you have a chance to buy plants in time for the summer. It is smaller and less crowded than the more famous shows like Chelsea.

Cardiff 2019

I was disappointed that there was only room for a couple of show gardens. There were lots of trade stands and a wide variety of stalls selling different types of food. As there was not enough seating  we bought fish and chips and had a picnic on the grass. Luckily the weather was warm and sunny.

Children’s competition

A happy gardener with a collection of plants.
My favourite. The gardener looks so happy.

 

The children have built a boat inside the wheel barrow.
Another of the school entries

 

Each year the RHS holds a competition to encourage  the next generation of gardeners. Local schools have the chance to design a garden in a wheelbarrow and we were able to vote for our favourites.   This year the theme was discovery.  There  was also a children’s trail based on the book “the very hungry caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

We spent a long time in the flower marquees enjoying the scents and vibrant colours of the displays.  Keen gardeners could ask RHS experts questions as well as listen to talks by experts.

A display of succulents
The winning entry in the floral marquee

I especially liked the winning displays, The overall winner was a beautifully arranged display of succulents and the winning nursery displayed a  vast collection  of different types of daffodils.  The daffodil being the national flower of Wales. I resisted buying any thing but many people had very full shopping carts.  At the end of the show on Sunday growers sell plants more cheaply.

A dragon in the middle of a rockery
As we are in Wales you must expect a dragon or two

Cardiff for tourists

Cardiff  attracts a lot of tourists.   Bute park, where the show is held is right in the centre. From there you can catch the ferry  along the river Taff to Cardiff bay and see the Doctor Who exhibition or catch the red hop on hop off tourist bus and see sights like the Welsh assembly or the millennium stadium home to Cardiff city football club.

Visitors walking around the grounds of Cardiff castle
The Norman keep at Cardiff castle complete with dragon.

The enormous Cardiff castle is by the side of the park. It is well worth a visit but we did not have time on Saturday. Entry to the souvenir shop is free so I was able to take a quick picture of the keep. If you want to find out more click here Cardiff castle

The Museum

After admiring the displays in the flower show we went for coffee and a chance to sit down in the nearby Cardiff Museum and art gallery. Until the 6th of May they have a collection of Leonardo Da Vinci  Drawings owned by the Queen and loaned from her own collection. 144 drawings are on display at twelve venues round the country including Bristol museum. However as my husband had already seen them we opted to look at their collection of French impressionist paintings including this impressive Renoir. Entry to the museum is free but they encourage donations and there is a small charge for special exhibitions like the Leonardo drawings.

A smart Parisien lady wearing a blue gown
Lady in Blue by Renoir

If you liked this, you might enjoy another Welsh post Visiting the Royal Mint at Llantrisant

This post will be added to link parties for blogging grandparents. As always if you have any tips for visitors to Cardiff or questions please add them in the comments below.

 

 

An Easter link Party

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Happy Easter

I belong to a couple of granny blogging groups and I have been invited to party with them by adding links to my posts. I thought I would try to repay the favour by hosting my own party.

You are all invited. You don’t have to be a grandparent to add a link but the content should be family friendly. If you add a link it would be kind to talk to some of the other guests by visiting their links and commentating. To add a link copy the direct URL of the specific post you want to share, new or old, not the link to the blog or website. If this is your first Linkz party you will need to sign up to the site using your face book profile or E mail.

I will try to share any links on social media.

This is the first time I have tried to host a party so I don’t want to be left to eat all the hot cross buns myself. Please let me know if you have any problems adding links in the comments below.

Easter Parade link party

two rabbits with an easter egg.

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter