Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England

I had vaguely heard of Much Wenlock and there’s a bookshop there (it’s on a list) so we decided to visit it when we were staying in Oswestry for a few days. Sadly when we got there the bookshop was closed, but the town is so quaint we were happy just to have a look around it. Much Wenlock is the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games apparently.

The only shop that was open was a terrifying antiques shop. It’s the most jam packed shop I’ve ever been in with towers of ‘stuff’ everywhere, almost all of it very breakable too as the stock seems to consist of 99% china/pottery! We carefully negotiated the piles but were too terrified to pick anything up to look at it, we would probably have had to move six other pieces to get to anything interesting anyway. So breathing carefully, we squeezed out again – heaving a sigh of relief – no damage done.

Wenlock  Priory Board

Back out on the pavement we spotted a sign pointing to the priory and made our way there. There’s actually still quite a lot to see and some of the stonework is very ornate. What is left dates from the 13th century. Luckily English Heritage look after it, so as we’re in Historic Scotland at the moment we didn’t have to pay to get in.

Wenlock Priory Buildings  + Topiary

Wenlock Priory

Wenlock Priory
The priory must have looked fabulous in its day but over the years most of the stones have been recycled for use in local buildings as usually happens with these places.
Wenlock priory
Wenlock Priory
Walking back to the car I took a few photos of some not quite so ancient buildings. The one below is brick built.

Much Wenlock buildings
I particularly like the building below as I can just imagine people hanging over the balcony to chat to people in the street 500 years ago.

Much Wenlock

Much Wenlock Buildings
The building below is the Guildhall and is still in use.

Much Wenlock Buildings
There’s quite a variety of styles around though.
Buildings in Much Wenlock

The village has been used in a few film locations, including the John Cleese film Clockwise.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It would be nice to visit Much Wenlock when it’s actually open, so if we’re ever in that area again we’ll definitely go back.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It has quite an interesting history which you can read about here.

The Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain

After Lorient in Brittany we set sail for Getxo which is the port for Bilbao in Spain, a first visit to that country for me, so for the first time in my life I was in the Bay of Biscay, somewhere notorious for having heavy and rough seas. What a disappointment, it was a flat calm, even the Black Watch’s captain said he had never seen it so smooth.

Anyway, Getxo is a lovely small town but Bilbao is some 15 miles or so away from there and Jack was worried that we might somehow miss the Guggenheim Museum if we took the trip there on our own. So we took one of the tours straight from the ship, scenic Bilbao and the Guggenheim.

aGuggenheim 3 FOG

The actual Guggenheim building (above) is lovely, it’s definitely the star of the show as there isn’t really a huge amount of artworks inside it. What there is though is quite eclectic so there should be something to suit just about anyone, from small amazingly intricate drawings by Goya to a large exhibition of paintings by Francis Bacon, someone that I can see had artistic talent, but I definitely wouldn’t want anything by him hanging on my wall.
aGuggenheim 8 inside 1

There were a lot of paintings by Picasso too, from all of his periods. You aren’t allowed to take any photos of artworks in the Guggenheim, although they don’t mind you taking photos of the actual building. The architect, Frank Gehry was inspired by fish and you can see not only the fish shapes but also the metal internal cladding meant to depict the fish scales.

aGuggenheim 5 FOG

Luckily for the locals there are lots of exhibits outside the building that they can enjoy without ever having to go into the museum. I loved the rolling mist that appeared and disappeared from time to time, depending on the atmospherics.

aGuggenheim 15 Brigde + Spider

The spider in the photo above has eggs inside it and it isn’t supposed to be frightening but is a tribute to motherhood as she is protecting them apparently.

After seeing the museum and buying a few things in the shop, which seemed to be a lot cheaper than such places in the UK, we made our way back to the bus and were taken on a tour up to the hills surrounding Bilbao. It really is in a lovely setting and you can look down on the whole city from there.

apanorama 1

The only downside of taking the bus trip was that we really missed out on soaking up the atmosphere of Bilbao which looked very vibrant and has a reputation as a great place for entertainment. It seems to be the Spanish (Basque) equivalent of Glasgow, artistic and fun-loving. It felt quite like parts of Scotland with the surrounding hills here.

Bilbao panorama

They were very happy to hear that we came from Scotland as the Basque country is of course Celtic and has a strong independent culture of its own, completely different from the rest of Spain.

apanorama 7

We intend to go back there again sometime, maybe for a short city break, four days or so. The local people we spoke to were so friendly and they all spoke English. But we were very interested when Maria our tour guide mentioned that the place was well known for very fine rain that soaked you – how like home we thought! We were chuffed to discover that the Basque word for the rain is shirrimirry, very similar to the Scots word smirry for the same type of rain. We’re definitely their cousins and whenever there’s a gathering of Scottish independence folks on TV there’s nearly always someone waving a Basque flag in amongst the Saltires.

It was a very hot day when we were there, around 27 C about 81 F hotter than normal for early October.

You can see more images of the Guggenheim here and Bilbao here.

Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium

Ypres Buildings

In Britain we say Ypres (Eeprr) in the French fashion, I’m not very good at that French ‘r’ rolling thing. Anyway, that was how it was pronounced locally at the time of World War 1. The British troops of course decided that it was much easier to call the place Wipers. After the war the Flemish people of the region decided that it was about time they dropped the French way of doing it, after all it isn’t in France it’s Belgium. So now it’s called Ieper (Eeyeper) well that’s what it sounds like to me. The whole town was flattened as it was right on the front line, and it had been such a lovely mediaeval town too.

Ypres Building

After the war there was a discussion about what should be done about the place. Churchill was keen to keep the whole area in ruins as a memorial to the dead. Understandably that didn’t appeal to the locals who just wanted to get back home and get on with normal life. So the decision was taken to re-build as close as possible to what had been there before, and I think they made a good job of it.

Cloth Hall fountains

The fountain above is obviously modern, I love fountains, there aren’t enough of them around, in Britain anyway. It was hot while we were there and in common with lots of old places Ypres has now and again a whiff of old drains but the town also smells of chocolate, very enticing.

If you go to Ypres be sure to visit The Flanders Field Museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever visited – and I’ve visited a fair few in my time. Give yourself at least three hours to go around it.

Ypres is just a small town surrounded by farmland, interspersed with many cemeteries and memorials. I read somewhere that the farmland had been very poor prior to the war, but afterwards it was the most productive farmland in Europe. I don’t know if that’s true but it is an undeniable fact that it was certainly very well fertilized, what an awful thought.

It’s a dangerous job driving a tractor on these fields as unexploded shells are ploughed up all the time and sometimes they explode when they’re disturbed, killing or maiming the poor driver.


If you’re interested you can see some images of The Wipers Times here.

Kelvingrove organist’s Bowie tribute

The organist at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow played Life on Mars today as a tribute to David Bowie and a chap called Gordon Wilson was smart enough to film it on his phone. The organ obviously isn’t the best instrument to play it on, but he makes a good job of it I think. The organ is played every day at the same time, but the last time we were there, when we had Peggy from the US with us, we weren’t lucky enough to hear it.

St Andrews Museum, Fife

If you’re looking for something to do in Fife and you’re interested in embroidery/textiles, you should take a look at Diamond Threads an exhibition of work by some members of Dundee Embroiderers’ Guild which is on at St Andrews Museum.

We saw the exhibition by chance as we were visiting the museum, just because we hadn’t been there for ages. I thought you might be interested to see the axe which was used for beheading people in mediaeval St Andrews. Apparently the short handle was ideal for the job as it was easier to get a good aim at the neck and it should have meant a clean swift chop. I’m not so sure about that, fancy having to stand right next to the person who you were beheading!!

Executioner's Axe, St Andrews Museum

An improved method of execution was thought up – The Maiden, which was an early type of guillotine. You can see an original Maiden at Edinburgh, but here’s a photo of it. I hope it doesn’t put you off your dinner!

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tearooms, Glasgow

Willow Tearooms  in Glasgow

On our recent stopover in Glasgow I had thought that we might have our lunch at one of The Willow Tearooms in the city. But we were too busy photographing the loads of gorgeous buildings nearby, so we ended up just having Cornish pasties – on the go. Next time we’ll be more organised.

Willow tea rooms

These tearooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh – as I’m sure you will have realised. The photos above are of the tearoom at the bottom of Buchanan Street. You can read about them here. The actual tearoom is upstairs I believe.

The photos below are of the tearooms at the top of Sauchiehall Street. These have only fairly recently been opened as a tearoom again as the building had been taken over by a jewellers for some years.

Willow Tearooms

I think the windows of this one are wonderful. You can see images of the tearooms here.

Willow Tearooms

It was Miss Cranston who commissioned C.R. Mackintosh to design her tearooms for her and you can see the original interior in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries in the west end of Glasgow. There are more images of The Miss Cranston interior in the gallery here.

Nowadays of course there are gift shops alongside the tearooms. There’s so much Mackintosh inspired ‘stuff’ around that we have taken to calling it Mockintosh.

In fact I couldn’t resist buying some Mackintosh inspired fabric from the nearby Manders shop. I got a couple of yards in their sale, at a seventh of the original price! I have no idea what I’m going to use it for though.

Mackintosh fabric

Crathes Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

For one night only – we were in Aberdeen recently. We went there mainly to visit Crathes Castle which is about 15 miles west of Aberdeen. Below is a photo of the castle from the front. It’s Scottish baronial in design as you can see and it’s pronounced Crath-es.

Crathes Castle 4

The castle was originally owned by the Burnett (pronounced Burn-it) family but it is now owned by the Scottish National Trust. As ever you are not allowed to take photos of the inside, it is about time they woke up and got rid of that rule as there is no possibility of damaging anything nowadays when you can turn the flash off in cameras. The SNT would get so much more publicity if there were images of the inside of their properties all over the internet.

Crathes Castle 1

Above is the back of the castle, not quite so attractive as the front.

Leaning out of one of the open windows in the castle I managed to get this photo of the autumn colour of one of the gardens. They are really well worth visiting, I’m planning to go back next spring or summer to see them at their best.

Crathes Castle Gardens

There’s a lot of yew topiary there some of which is hundreds of years old. What a job it must be to keep that lot looking good!

Crathes Castle

Crathes Castle Gardens

I loved the look of this teeny wee house too, I have no idea what it was for, maybe just for gardeners to hide from the rain in a downpour, or just to look pretty.

Crathes Castle

The next day we went into the city of Aberdeen itself, apparently the oil capital of Europe but I can’t say that it impressed me. I hate the greyness of it all, famously the buildings are mainly made of grey granite which is supposed to sparkle in the sun but it was a lovely bright day and Aberdeen still managed to look dreich. Granite’s one saving grace seems to be that it is hard wearing. You can see some images of Aberdeen here.

Aberdeen does have a good art gallery though and it was worthwhile going to the city to see that alone. You can see some of their treasures here.

De Kruidhof Botanic Garden, the Netherlands


I don’t think I’ve seen anything like the fungus above, outside of a children’t book illustration. There was quite a colony of them, all shouting “poisonous” with their vibrant red colour.

De Kruidhof 9 butterfly 2

This butterfly was having a drink from a sedum flower.

And below it’s a different butterfly on a buddleia. It was a good day for butterflies considering it was mid September.
De Kruidhof 10 butterfly 3

The sedums are in the foreground. We almost had the whole of the botanic gardens to ourselves, I suppose if we had gone in high summer it would have been much busier.

De Kruidhof 11

There’s also a great museum attached the the botanic gardens . It has loads of wonderful geological specimens and ancient artefacts going back to neolithic times, well worth a look.

Riverside Museum, Glasgow (Transport Museum)

Riverside Museum

It’s just a short walk from the Crowne Plaza Hotel to the Riverside Museum, and a very pleasant walk it is too on a sunny day, along the Clyde Walkway.
Riverside Museum
I used to visit the old transport museum quite often when it was housed at the Kelvin Hall and I was surprised that the new museum seems smaller than that one. On the other hand they have a lot packed into it, because as you can see above and below, they have layers of displays of vehicles which are cunningly affixed to the walls.
Riverside Museum
It isn’t only transport which you can see though, there are also displays of clothing from Edwardian to the 1950s and various other bits and pieces and of course a mock up of an old street, just as there was in the original museum, with old shops which you can go into. Trains, trams, motorbikes, fire engines, horse drawn carriages, even mobility scooters feature in the museum and of course there’s a sailing ship anchored at the back of the museum.
Riverside Museum of Transport

Riverside Museum

Riverside Museum

I was particularly pleased to see the original Peace Camp caravan which had been parked opposite the nuclear submarine base at Faslane for years. After all, it’s part of Scottish history and we drove past it often as we lived nearby in our young days. The peace camp was set up in the 1970s by people who were against nuclear bombs and didn’t want anything like that on Scottish land or water. Every time we went past this caravan at Faslane Peace Camp my father-in-law would huff and puff with fury – what an eyesore that is – why are they allowed to park it by the roadside? – it’s a blot on the landscape!
The Peace Caravan at Riverside Museum.

He was an old Tory but even so, his reaction always amused me as I looked at what was on the opposite side of the road – miles and miles of enormous razor wire fencing surrounding what is genuinely a beautiful landscape, completely spoiled by the Ministry of Defence who saw fit to dump nuclear weapons in Scotland, when nobody here wants the ghastly things.
Apparently the peace camp is still there, with newer caravans, but it’s ages since I’ve been along that road. I would really like a caravan like this one for my garden though, it would be better than a summerhouse, but I don’t think it would be very easy to get it over the fence.

The car below was made at the Argyll Car Factory which was near where I was brought up. The car factory didn’t last long though, they were just too expensive and the factory itself had been so expensively built, the staircases inside were made of marble! it looked like a palace, not a factory and I know this because when my dad’s wee shop in Glasgow was flattened in the 1960s he ended up working in this factory. It must have been hellish for a man who had always been his own boss, by then the factory was government owned, making torpedoes of all things. Dad just pushed a pen there, I suppose it was what people have to do to get food on the table for the family.
Riverside Museum
Anyway, the Riverside Museum is well worth visiting if you find yourself in Glasgow. It is European Museum of 2013.

From the Guardian

It’s ages since I’ve linked to anything from the Guardian Review, in fact I haven’t even had the time or inclination to read it, I’ve just been too busy with domestic stuff. Anyway, here’s a selection that I thought some people might find quite interesting.

The MY HERO article is by Michael Ondaatje and Jhumpa Lahin and their hero is the writer Mavis Gallant. I must admit that I haven’t read anything by her, but it looks like I should rectify that.

Kathryn Hughes enjoyed reading Dreams of the Good Life: The Life of Flora Thompson and the Creation of Lark Rise to Candleford.

There’s an article about a new exhibition at the British Museum – Vikings: Life and Legend. And by the way – we in Scotland would like our Lewis chessmen back thank you!

There’s a new book out about that perennial mystery ship the Mary Celeste, you can read about it here.

This year is of course the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. Did you know that over a million Indian soldiers fought on the British side. Find out more in The last post by Daljit Nagra.

And from the main section of the newspaper an article about independent bookshops being in decline. Well we all know that but thankfully some are still struggling on.

I hope you find something to interest you in those links.