Category Archives: Art

A Sunny Morning in Leicester

Escaping Richard III, we took the opportunity of a sunny morning to just go for a wander around.

First up, just the other side of the Castle Gardens, was the rather nice square in front of the Castle’s Great Hall (itself now a Business School).

Castle SquareCastle Square - St. Mary de Castro

The church is St. Mary de Castro (sans steeple).

Leicester Cat

Heading out into part of De Montfort University campus via the old gate/tower, madame and a local gentleman ask directions from a local puss who was illegally sunbathing on a double yellow line.

New WalkNew Walk

A pleasant stroll down New Walk (not that new, it’s apparently been traffic free for over 200 years), brings you to the museum and art gallery.

New Walk Museum

The main gallery was preparing itself for a lunchtime Schubert piano recital, so the interesting exhibition in the room next door about Indian music was rather tempered by the practising pianists.

And in honour of Leicester’s multi-cultural environment and café society, we returned to the town centre, and sat in the sunshine at a Portuguese snack bar. Someone who shall remain nameless just adores those naughty pastéis de nata.

Shugborough Again & More Ceilings

It may have been a dull and damp Sunday, but as we were moored just by the back entrance to Shugborough Hall, our friends Mon & Phil drove down from Bramhall in Cheshire for the day, to join us and have a wander round. We had been round the hall about ten years or more years ago, but somehow they never had. And we’d had a lovely time with them last year doing the stereotypical National Trust bit…

Even allowing for the weather it was something of a Curate’s Egg. It seems that the Trust had acquired the estate a long time ago, mainly because it was a rare example of a complete estate, with all the trimmings. They were less interested in the Hall, and for many years the building had been run/maintained/whatever by Staffordshire Council. But very recently the NT had taken it back, and were clearly only just getting their act together. Their new interpretive stuff clearly hadn’t all been completed.

Patrick Lichfield’s apartment (no photos allowed) were much as we remembered, and in honour of the accidental theme of last year’s cruise, here are some splendid ceilings from the hall.

Shugborough House

Shugborough HouseShugborough House

We went for a wander outside, but it was pretty cold and miserable.

Shugborough HouseShugborough Hall

Some of the  borders were admittedly splendid though.

Shugborough HouseShugborough Estate

After heading back to the boat for tea and biccies, we ended up nattering for so long it was too late to move Song & Dance on a bit as per original plan, and the only sensible thing to do was to decamp to the Clifford Arms for dinner again, this time with Mon & Phil. We think they felt marginally obligated… they’d left their car in the pub’s car park all day. Another excellent day.

A Llangollen Afternoon

With the early-ish start from Froncysyllte, we’d actually made Llangollen in time for an afternoon wander, even though the 6 miles and no locks took three hours – slow going. The walk down to the town from the basin is full of interest…

Llangollen Wharf

The road descends steeply across the canal. You can carry on round some tight and steep bends, and end up on the main road at an amazing taxidermy workshop. Or you can drop down to Llangollen Wharf, where there’s ice cream, teas, and a chance to say hello to Taffy, who pulls the horse-drawn trip boat up to Horseshoe Falls. Then some steep steps down onto the same road.

Llangollen WharfTaffy

Either way you end up the station, and the bridge over the River Dee.

Llangollen StationLlangollen Station & River Dee

With steam engines running every day during the summer, and a cafe on the platform, the station’s a busy spot. It’s a lovely line, climbing up further into the mountains, and we’d had a lovely day trip some years previously. They’ve extended it a little further, but it was a bit late in the afternoon to investigate this – we’d have had to take the last train out and come straight back – so decided to maybe go on an expedition on Saturday.

Committee Meeting?5199Llangollen Station

The crew seemed to be having some kind of committee meeting over the couplings, but the train eventually departed.

More CeilingsRiver Dee

Walking along the river we noticed a family of young rats whizzing in and out of the rocks below the promenade railings. You’re never very far from a rat, but it’s not often you see them so boldly visible when lots of people are around.

As St. Collen’s church here is also noted for its carved ceiling and hammer beamed roof, we thought we’d better continue our exploration of such items even though we were now definitely in Wales. Then a wander back through town, spotting likely places for an evening meal off the boat. There are worse ways to spend a warm if dull Friday afternoon.

Chester: Ceiling, Consistory Court, Choir and Conundrum

As this cruise – quite unintentionally – seems to have turned into a tour around remarkable ecclesiastical ceilings in middle-west England, it seemed unwise to miss out Chester Cathedral, so we squeezed in a quick tour before heading back uphill up the Shropshire Union for Sidmouth (if you see what we mean).

The ceilings were indeed remarkable,

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

but it was disturbing that the recent global cult of the Tabard Taliban seemed to be infiltrating everywhere. The chief gardener was doing her best to ignore their mystical incantations, but with little success.

Tabard Taliban

As well as fine ceilings, Chester has the oldest complete consistory court still remaining in a cathedral building. Don’t know if they still have a hanging judge, though.

Gloucester Catherdral : Consistory Court

Even more remarkable were the wooden carvings over the choir: every position is different,

Gloucester Catherdral : Choir CarvingsGloucester Catherdral : Choir

and the same applies to the misericords.

Gloucester Catherdral : MiserichordsGloucester Catherdral : Miserichords

At the end of each choir stall is a different carving too. The elephant carver had clearly never seen a real elephant! The bearded chap looks remarkably like a Bracknell Folk Club and Festival organiser of some decades ago, although I can’t recall him ever playing a fiddle. And quite what the creature with the pewter tankard is supposed to be, or is doing to the monkey, remains a puzzle. Perhaps the carver was suffering from an overdose of festival-itis when he carved it.

Gloucester Catherdral : Choir CarvingsGloucester Catherdral : Choir CarvingsGloucester Catherdral : Choir Carvings

After all that ecclesiastical glory, a quick sandwich lunch and we headed back South again, and the siren call of Swanley Bridge Marina and Sidmouth Folk Week.

The Captain must have known we were running late and were hot and harrassed, as he jumped ship at one of those difficult – and grey painted- locks, dived into an impenetrable hedgerow bordering the lock cottage garden, and ignored all attempts to tempt him back on board. Unfortunately, when he jumps ship, he eventually tends to return to the point at which he went ashore, and then fails to notice that his home has moved on a few yards.

Unable to wait there with Song & Dance in the lock, we moved on fifty yards or so, and moored up properly, reluctantly accepting that we would probably have to stay there the night, all the while posting a lookout on the lock side. Fortunately the inhabitant of the lockkeeper’s cottage was present; he tied up his whippet, and allowed us to  rummage around in his shrubbery. Realising the game was up, Sir emerged blinking into the sunshine, and allowed us to accompany him back to his mobile food bowl. Oh the joys of a demanding ship’s Master…

After all that excitement for the day, our final resting place for the day was unmemorable, and forgotten.

Massive Checkatrade Failure

Seems the problem of finding a reliable builder for cathedral improvements was as big a problem then as it is finding a decent builder these days. Bodgit and Scarper Ltd were clearly well established in Tudor times.

Worcester Cathedral: Prince Arthur's Tomb

There are a couple of older tombs just to the right of SWMBO in the picture, and they decided they wanted to build a big tall impressive tomb/chapel/whatever on top, for Prince Arthur. The filigree masonry and everything is just staggering. But when  they came to assemble all that fancy carved masonry screen, they found it was about six inches too high.

Worcester Cathedral: Bodge Job

So rather than go back and do it properly, they just hacked away at the existing fabric of the cathedral, and hoped no one would notice.

Hog Roast

Nearby is a carving of a spit-roasted human… one of the masons perhaps.

Worcester–Cloister, Crypt and Chapter House

Staying with the C theme, there’s a fine crypt…

Worcester Cathedral: CryptWorcester Cathedral: Crypt

… a splendid large circular Chapter House, which defied all attempts to depict properly in a photo…

Chapter HouseWorcester Cathedral: Chapter House

… and a fine Cloister, where the supporting columns had aligned holes, so the head monk could peer down all one side and check the chaps were all heads down and working hard. The middle photo gives an idea.

Worcester Cathedral: CloisterWorcester Cathedral: CloisterWorcester Cathedral: Chapter House

Worcester–Carvings and Ceilings

More by accident than design, we seem to be sailing past loads of interesting churches, abbeys, priories and cathedrals. Perhaps someone’s trying to tell us something. Worcester Cathedral looms over the Severn. A photo from the river is a classic shot, but with a boat to control and indifferent weather we didn’t bother. Anyway, it seemed churlish not to continue the theme.

Worcester Cathedral: Side Chapel TriptychWorcester Cathedral: Side Chapel Triptych

In one of the side chapels is an enormous carved triptych: can only show a small bit here, but the detailed expressions on the faces are remarkable. Took eleven years to complete, apparently.

Worcester CathedralWorcester Cathedral: King John's Tomb

The stained glass is not medieval: being a cathedral at the time, rather than a priory or abbey, good old Henry VIII destroyed it. (Gloucester was not a cathedral at the time, hence it’s glass wasn’t destroyed). King John’s tomb is plonked right in the middle of the choir (you can see it at the bottom of the main photo). That must make dancing in the aisles a little problematic.

Worcester CathedralWorcester Cathedral

Nonetheless, the ceiling is wonderful.

The Storm Clouds Gather Over a Large Jigsaw Puzzle

Finally leaving Slimbridge on Sunday morning, we made it all the way back to Gloucester Docks, via a short diversion at Saul for fuel (both diesel and human food). We moored back up on the Llanthony pontoon, in weather that looked increasingly ominous.

Llanthony Pontoon

The plan for Monday afternoon, was to do a proper tour of the cathedral: we’d been told they were filming something on the Monday morning.

Gloucester DocksGloucester Docks

Heading towards the cathedral over the lock gates as the large holiday hotel/cruise boat departed the dock, we were slightly intrigued by the red-haired young lady with the colour coordinated carrier bag. She looked for all the world as though she was mournfully waiting for her ship to come in. But at the last minute, a crew member of the boat appeared on the starboard side of the boat, and with arms outstretched by both parties, the bag was passed up onto the boat. Clearly a last minute delivery of supplies from Sainsburys.

Gloucester Cathedral

The cathedral was a little bit of a disappointment: the filming was not only going happening on Monday morning, but all day all week it seemed. The local car park was full of support vehicles, the cathedral surrounded by generator lorries, and full of film studio kit. Large parts of the cathedral were out of bounds to visitors, although a very friendly knowledgeable guide gave us a tour of the bits still open, which was most informative, and let us into some areas normally only available to paying guests, as a consolation prize.

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

Here’s a couple of pictures sneaked from the whispering gallery. Seemed they were making an American production of some medieval story. It seemed odd seeing knights in armour speaking with strong NY accents, although Scottish actor Kenneth Cranham was spotted in a side chapel, in a  bishop’s outfit.

The wonderful  medieval glass window (the size of a tennis court) was removed and packed away safely during WW2, with half stored in the crypt and half in the cellars of a nearby stately home. After the war, the boxes were recovered and opened, and the glass had all survived intact. Unfortunately, however, both storage sites had been damp, and all the sticky paper labels had faded, smudged or come off. So the glaziers had the largest jigsaw puzzle in the world… and had to go and buy picture postcards of the window so that they could make a start.

After the disappointment of Monday, the quartermaster spent half of Tuesday wandering around the new “Outlet” shopping area while the FO moved the boat to attend to certain plumbing necessities (and back) while the Skipper jumpp ship and went walkabout around Gloucester college. Wednesday passed in a blur, but involved  a wander round the museum of the Royal Gloucester Regiment, a visit to the railway station, and more shopping.

With all the heavy rain that had been going on everywhere, we were getting interested in whether we there was going to be trouble heading North up the Severn. Asking the Gloucester lockie on Wednesday evening whether there were any issues heading up to Tewkesbury on Thursday morning, he said that he’d just got back from a few days off, the river had risen significantly, and the Upper Lode lock at just South of Tewkesbury was talking about shutting… we’d need to talk to them first thing Thursday morning. Hmm…

Harry Potter and More Ceilings

Monday morning, and it’s off to the Harry Potter Theme Park, aka Gloucester Cathedral. And very impressive it is too. Although with all the abbeys, priorys and churches on this journey of two rivers, one can’t help but be reminded of the newly-wed bride, who – when asked what she wanted to see on her honeymoon – said simply “ceilings!”

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

It’s apparently a local joke that if you ask the whereabouts of someone in Gloucester, the reply always includes “you can see the cathedral from here”; and indeed you can glimpse the tower from almost anywhere, but getting a decent overview of the outside is nigh-on impossible.

It rapidly became clear that a quick whizz around wasn’t really going to suffice, so we did just that, BUT determined to come back and get a proper guided tour when we returned back this way after going down to Sharpness.

Gloucester Cathedral - West WindowGloucester Cathedral - SIde Chapel

The impressive West window is popular with tourists because it’s nice and bright (because it’s Victorian), and there’s some lovely modern glass in a side chapel. The columns just visible in in the right of the West window picture are all different, and relate to different periods of construction. The crowning glory is the mediaeval East window, but not easy to photograph on this day of clouds and sunshine. We’ll have another go in a week or so,

Gloucester CathedralGloucester Cathedral

The Lady Chapel is much more modern, with an interesting side-line in garish tombs and wordy inscriptions. The one for the impressively named Sir Joseph Onesiphorus Paul Bt. was fascinating – clearly an early prison reformer.

Gloucester Cathedral - CloistersGloucester Cathedral - CloistersGloucester Cathedral - Where's Harry

The cloisters are just stunning – although familiar to anyone who’s seen the Harry Potter movies. The reminder for the Fifth Form seemed the icing on the cake. Speaking of which, noshing in the cafe we fell into conversation with a lady from Holland, who was touring with her husband and – presumably Potter mad – daughter. They’d come over on the overnight ferry to Newcastle and driven up to do Edinburgh; the next day they’d driven down to a B&B in Oxford; today, having driven to Gloucester and done the cathedral in the morning/lunchtime, they were off to do Laycock Abbey then Stonehenge before returning to Oxford that evening. Made us tired just to even think of it!

Gloucester Cathedral

Just off the cloisters was this place: no obvious indication of it’s purpose. Perhaps a giant communal wash-hand basin. If anyone knows…

Gloucester Cathedral - Tomb of EII

And a confession (appropriate in a place of worship) – the photos or the photographer got mixed up, and this one is the real tomb of Edward II, not the one photographed in Tewkesbury Abbey last week! Mea culpa!

Gloucester Here We Come

Saturday morning dawned bright and gloomy, and we set off, starting with locking down through Avon Lock onto the Avon link, then a left turn onto the River Severn proper. Very shortly we came to Upper Lode Lock, below which the river is sometimes tidal (at high Spring Tides), and hence bad news for little boats. There was to be a Spring Tide on the Sunday  morning, so we really needed to get tucked up in Gloucester before then.

Upper Lode Lock is ENORMOUS. Safely descended, the far gates were opened, and Song & Dance was fully up to deep river cruising speed before we even reached them. And there’s also a wide pool at that end fully big enough to wind/turn a 58ft narrowboat round or moor a flotilla of sailing yachts.

Just down the Severn from Upper Lode, you come across the premises of the Avon Sailing Club, but that’s all right as the Severn Sailing Club is situated near Bredon, about 6 miles up the Avon from Tewkesbury. Must be something in the water.

Making good time we stopped at The Boat Inn at Ashleworth for lunch and a short wander. Although the village itself is a way off, just behind the pub is a fine collection of 15C buildings huddled together: a manor house, church and tithe barn.

AshleworthAshleworth Tithe Barn

Ashleworth Tithe BarnAshleworth Tithe Barn

This barn is still seemingly used for storing useful things like dead sinks, but at least there was little in the way of guano underfoot. More impressive were the giant “half doors”. Don’t know about lifting one off so you can clog dance – these are big enough to hold a small ceilidh on! An instant hernia at the mere thought.

Ashleworth ChurchAshleworth StyleAshleworth Church

The church had an unusual – but probably not 15C – stile, and their bell ropes matched the chief cook’s fancy mooring warps, so if we need some more we know where to come.

Old Spots

And just around the corner were some Gloucestershire Old Spots – an early inspiration for several other Morris sides and the Morris movement in general – one even looks suspiciously like Ken Langsbury…

During the pub lunch break, the Captain had braved the open weave pontoons for a good rummage around in the bankside weeds and woods. Needing to get going, and after watching him seemingly sitting quietly in a chunk of long grass for some while with no sign of wishing to go boating again, the navigator picked him up as per normal. Only to find him in mid wee. After a wash, and a clean shirt, we set off with a very grumpy Skipper muttering to himself.

We’d been warned about the approach into Gloucester Lock, which takes you up from the River Severn into Gloucester Docks: it was as interesting as promised, and we were glad of the detailed briefing; even gladder there wasn’t actually much flow on the Severn that afternoon, or it could have easily become exciting – something we try and avoid.

With us as the only occupants, the lockkeeper filled the large lock very slowly, and before we’d made it all the way up to the busy bedlam that is Gloucester Docks on a sunny weekend afternoon, our friends Moira, Graham and family were peering over the edge and forming a welcoming party. We’d seen them all several times in passing last weekend at Chippenham, but never got a chance to chat, so tea and buns at the narrowboat cafe rapidly ensued.

All in all, we’ve had worse days, even if the Captain was still sulking, and The Guv’nor was nowhere in sight.