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Tuesday, 15 May 2018

We were inspired by the recent warm spring weather to plan a day's outing. When the chosen day arrived, however, it was cold, wet and grey. That didn't prevent our enjoying, very much, a trip to the nearby cathedral city of  Wells, Somerset. Although classed as a city, it's a small place and incredibly historic. It's named for a number of natural wells that bubble up from the ground around the Bishop's Palace and Wells Cathedral. We were lucky to arrive on market day. The arch behind the flower stall is the market square well, which continually flows and runs beneath the shops and down each side of the high street.

The Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace are just a few steps from the market square. Both are walled and the Palace, founded in 1206, is surrounded by a moat complete with bell-ringing swans and a drawbridge.

The gardens were very lush in their spring greenery and colour and you could see the wells bubbling up in natural pools.

Water seemed to be flowing everywhere through various channels although it has to be carefully managed to avoid flooding of the town.

An excellent rear view of the Cathedral was provided from the Palace gardens.

By now, you might be thinking "not another cathedral" as, to be honest, that's what we were thinking as we no longer go out of our way to visit them as there seem to be so many alike. Wells Cathedral, however, was different with a number of unique and interesting things to see. There was incredible sculpture on the outside of the building, one of the largest galleries of medieval sculpture in the world. From the bottom up, it starts with biblical scenes, rising through kings, bishops, apostles and angels with Christ at the top.

It was the interior, though, that really caught our eye. This massive "scissor arch", built to prevent the building from sinking, was not only functional, but, exceedingly beautiful as well.

Wells Cathedral is also home to the second oldest surviving clock in England (Salisbury's is older). It's an astronomical clock from around 1325. It still has the original medieval face. We settled in to wait for the quarter hour when the jousting knights above the clock face would circle past each other. The quarter-jack was beside the clock and much higher up. On the quarter hour it strikes two bells with its hands and two with its heels setting the knights in motion.

On the outer wall is a second clock face of the same clock, driven by the same mechanism. This second clock face has two quarter jacks in the form of knights in armour.

After all this magnificence we weren't finished yet. Just steps away from this clock we found Vicar's Close, which according to wiki, "is claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe. The Vicar's Hall was completed in 1348 and included a communal dining room, administrative offices and treasury of the Vicars Choral. The houses on either side of the close were built in the 14th and early 15th centuries" as lodgings for the men of the choir. Today, some of the houses are still used by choristers from the Wells Cathedral School.

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Sunday, 6 May 2018

I've already posted a few photos of the SS Great Britain, the biggest passenger ship in the world when she was built in 1845, the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic and currently the #1 tourist attraction here in Bristol. We hadn't yet gone aboard as we were waiting until a very special evening that we attended recently. We belong to the OCC (Ocean Cruising Club) and the 2018 annual general meeting and awards ceremony were to be held in the first class dining room of the ship. It promised to be special and it was.

During the day we attended various informative seminars and the AGM. We then had a few hours to ourselves, before the evening's scheduled activities, to view the excellent museums adjacent to the ship.

One of the museums had only been open three weeks and is dedicated solely to the life and accomplishments of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. The 'Being Brunel' museum was excellent, providing access to many personal possessions, documents and artefacts.

We boarded the ship around 18:00 and were given a lively, private introduction and tour of the ship by one of the stewards.

After the introduction, we were able to roam the ship at will. It was available only to club members for the evening. By today's cruise ship standards, the ship was very basic, but, fascinating. All the displays were very well done.

The largest passenger area in the ship was the first class promenade.

The first class cabins, with windows and privacy, were all adjacent to the promenade.

However, the first class cabins didn't look much better than the bunks in steerage.

The galley was very realistic with images and sounds of rats scurrying in the backs of cupboards.

The opportunity to meet other members was inspiring. Everybody had very interesting stories, but, there were a few members and award recipients in attendance who are true sailing legends.

We were very interested to meet James Wharram, now 90 and his partner Hanneke Boon.

The captain of the Queen Mary II,  Christopher Wells, was present to receive a special award for coordinating the rescue of an OCC member and Ostar competitor, in mid-Atlantic, when his boat began taking on water. 

David Scott Cowper was also present to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. David is legendary not only for his multiple solo circumnavigations, but, to North West Passage sailors he's a superstar, currently holding many world firsts for transits in the area. We also met Jane Maufe, Cowper's crew and partner for his 2012/2013 NWP transits.  Jane is the four-greats niece of Sir John Franklin (she was named after Franklin's wife, Lady Jane Franklin). She has just published a book of these voyages: The Frozen Frontier: Polar Bound, through the Northwest Passage. In her own words, "[the book is not] a monologue of dreary course alterations, wind directions, sail changes, reefing points and compass is a personal account of our experiences voyaging the hope that we and our hull would still be intact when we came out the other end". I haven't finished the book yet, but, have found it so far to be charming, revealing and quite entertaining as Jane has a rather droll sense of humour.

Here is David receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award, from Anne Hammick, Commodore of the OCC.

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Sunday, 29 April 2018

Unfortunately, the summer-like weather I mentioned in my last post has come and gone. It was phenomenal while it lasted though and Bristol was practically vibrating with all the frenetic activity and energy on display. We've never seen the harbour area so busy. Many new activities became available, including bungee jumping from a crane. We weren't tempted to try it.

All the students were out lounging along the harbour walls with a few hundred of their closest friends.

A lot of the historic boats moored in the harbour, including the 'Matthew' replica and 'Pyronaut', were offering harbour tours and it was nice to see them moving around. The small steam train was also plying the sidewalk, offering rides.

That evening, it was fun to see a 'silent disco', a 'thing' we had never heard of. We were enjoying a warm evening's quiet stroll along the harbourside when we noticed a huge crowd of people, each with fluorescent headsets lighting up the night, bobbing around to the same beat. It looked very weird, but, they were having a great time and so were we, not being bombarded with unwanted noise.

Temperatures soon cooled off, but, the sun did remain for a couple of days and provided us the opportunity to revisit Leigh Woods, in search of bluebells. They had blossomed in the warmth and were everywhere.

There were many others out in the woods as well. We came across a woman walking her six! dogs. These two Westies were lollygagging behind the rest of their pack.

We followed up the bluebell search with a walk down into the Avon Gorge and back into town along the Avon river.

In North America, nothing says spring like seeing that first robin. The robins here are not the big, oversize American Robin, which is actually a thrush, but, the petite, rotund and very lovely European robin.

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Thursday, 19 April 2018

After leaving the brutal heat and white-hot, late summer, skies of Western Australia behind we flew back into the tail end of a rather cold, wet, miserable and prolonged winter in the UK. During our brief absence, we had missed two(!) snowstorms in Bristol, dropped by the weather system known as "the beast from the east" (no, not Putin, but, the cold winter winds from Siberia and environs) and there were still a few leftover dirty snowdrifts about, piled up in shaded corners. A couple of weeks went by with no change in the weather until, all of a sudden this week we have not spring, but, an early taste of summer. Today, it is the hottest April day in about seventy years. It felt and looked amazing, a clear, brilliant blue sky with a soft, warm wind that wafted a hot air balloon right by our windows.

By lunchtime, masses of office workers and students were lounging on newly green lawns by the river, enjoying the warmth underneath budding leaves and blossoms.  Everybody seemed to have a smile on their face.

Of course, it won't last, but, we're trying to make the most of it. We went for a walk into Leigh Woods, a renowned bluebell spotting locale. They were all there, but, they'll still need a week or so to fully bloom. We had to make do with other spring displays.

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Monday, 2 April 2018

Fremantle, Western Australia, or, as the locals like to call it, 'Freo', is adjacent to the perhaps better-known city name of Perth. Fremantle harbour is the port for Perth and is located where the Swan River meets the Indian Ocean. It was first settled in 1829 while Perth proper, which is located much further inland up the Swan River, didn't gain city status until 1856.

We'd initially hoped to spend quite some time at Fremantle in Gjoa, but, Gjoa is still further up the coast at Carnarvon for the moment. So, when we had a day left after selling our van before flying out, we decided to play tourist for the day and pay Freo a visit.

It was a lovely place in which to while away a few hours. The business district is very welcoming with many excellent coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores and bakeries housed in pretty historic buildings.

After a fine breakfast, we headed down to the waterfront. There are a couple of distinct areas. The historic waterfront is known as 'the bathing beach'. This is where the settlers were first landed in Fremantle and initially settled.

A little further along is a newly refurbished fishing harbour area with restaurants, amusements and street art installations.

We enjoyed visiting both the WA Museum Shipwreck Galleries and the Maritime Museum.

Viewing what's left of the shipwrecked Batavia and its cargo was stunning, learning about the horrible mutiny and horrific massacre associated with the wreck no less so. The stone arch in the photo below was part of the cargo destined for the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and was to be a welcome arch for the city of Batavia (Jakarta). There were many other fascinating relics on display.

The Maritime Museum was no less interesting. We were intrigued by the sailboat, 'Parry Endeavour' displayed there.

We've only recently learned of Jon Sanders, a true Australian (and world) sailing legend. He has just returned from his tenth circumnavigation of the world and we missed meeting him by only a few days when he arrived in Carnarvon shortly after we left. Parry Endeavour was the boat in which he completed his single-handed, non-stop, triple circumnavigation. The Guinness World Book of Records cites this as "the longest distance sailed non-stop by any vessel" (71,023 nautical miles). He spent 657 days, 21 hours and 18 minutes continuously at sea, completing three non-stop solo circumnavigations. I cannot imagine this length of time spent at sea, it's almost two years! The boat did have its fibreglass strengthened before departure and some keel adjustments made, but, for all intents and purposes, it looked just like an 'ordinary' fibreglass boat, nothing special. A closeup revealed the incredible wear and tear and also some pulpit damage.

Jon has a blog where he states his motto is: "Why be ordinary when I can be original!" His last entry talks about (bold emphasis is mine) his arrival into Carnarvon, where Gjoa is now. He also describes the coastline around Shark Bay and the local wind conditions, all very true as we've experienced recently!
"Shark Bay is situated on the mid-west coast of Australia. Windy! Trust me, it is windy. Especially in spring and summer (near enough – blows south to north). 
You don’t need a compass along that coast; for starters, trees grow bent, surprisingly, south to north. 
No person in his right mind should be sailing a yacht the other way (spring and summer), north to south. We do; although not anymore for this black duck – I hope. There are daily strong wind warnings against the Leeuwin Current, with the added sea confusion caused by the dangerous Zuytdorp Cliffs."
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Tuesday, 20 March 2018

We're back in Perth after our brief road trip around the SW corner of Australia.

Coming down from Carnarvon to Perth, the endless desert plains stretched off to the horizon. We've driven this stretch back and forth a few times now and it's always the same: very hot, very windy, very dry, very dusty and after a number of trips, very long and very boring.

Once nearer Perth, the landscape changes. We stayed overnight at Yanchep National Park, one of our favourite stops, which has a large koala and kangaroo population in a forested enclave near to the shore. We woke up to this tiny joey, all by itself, feeding at the back of the van.

After leaving Perth, we passed through the Perth Hills, just east of the city. It's a farming area, quite pretty, with a few historic towns, like York WA. The whole town has been designated a historic site due to the presence of many fine buildings. The stunning Town Hall was just one example.

The Town of York provided a free stopover for RVs next to the Avon River and it was a very enjoyable spot to stay by the water in the shade of the trees and watch the flock of Little Corellas (a kind of cockatoo) on the bank opposite.

We next headed inland towards Coolgardie before turning south towards Esperance. Generally, the first half of the trip was through dry farmland with not much to capture our fancy. Then, we arrived in Esperance, to a "wow" moment. This has to be the prettiest coastline in all of Australia (although we haven't seen it all yet). The weather was fine and the crowds non-existent. You can take your pick of nineteen!, pristine, white sand beaches, each one different, some in town and the rest just a short drive from town. One had a lagoon, one was good for surfing, one was good for families, you get the idea. The lack of development was refreshing. The turquoise water was stunning.

The town and its beaches are protected offshore by a group of 105 islands known as the  Archipelago of the Recherche (Bay of Isles).

The only negative was the cost of campsites in the Esperance area as freedom camping was forbidden. We went a little way out of town to stay at a farmstay property which was very reasonable and we really enjoyed camping out among the cattle with the sound of the frogs in the pond behind our van that night.

Next up was Albany. It seemed a thriving town in a pretty setting with a great natural harbour. We made a detour to visit the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse. Situated at the most south-westerly point of Australia it's the tallest lighthouse on the mainland. Cape Leeuwin is also the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean.

We pushed on to Busselton, another beach town. On the way, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were driving through cool, sun-dappled forests of large gum trees, with some old growth specimens still intact. We came out of the forest into the vineyards of the wine region around Margaret River before arriving at Busselton. We were intrigued by their jetty (pier) project. Only second in length to the one at Southend, UK, it has a natural aquarium, apparently only one of six in the world. It seemed like a great idea to raise funds for the jetty's construction and upkeep. Sure beats the usual tacky video and amusement arcades found on most other piers we've visited. Other derelict piers looking for funding should take note.

Our tickets entitled us to take the little train the length of the pier to the aquarium at the end, but, we chose to walk the 1.8 km length instead.

Once there, we were taken on a tour down the circular staircase with viewing windows at each level. It's only about eight metres down to the bottom, but, you could see colourful coral encrusted on the pier's legs and many fish. Of course, it wasn't quite as good as scuba diving, but, was easily accessible and interesting. A huge school of anchovies, flashing their silver bodies as they darted this way and that in the sunlight filtering through the water, was mesmerizing to watch.

On the way back to Perth we were excited to view a new (to us) bird species. The red-tailed black cockatoo is spectacular in flight with red patches under its wings. You can just see a small bit of the distinctive red patches in this picture.

We headed back to Perth in a bit of a rush, cutting our planned two week trip down to about eight days. Why? Well, second day out, I had uttered the words that G has come to hate "I have an idea". This idea was that maybe we should try and sell our van before we leave rather than waste money storing it and only have to sell it when we come back. So we did. Quickly, we put the ad on gumtree, then, cleaned the van from top to bottom, inside and out, to get rid of the Australian red dust that gets everywhere. The perfect young couple then came and bought it. We really hope they enjoy it. So, our beautiful van is now gone. It was a lot of work to fit it out and we were so proud of it, but, we'd only gotten to use it for maybe eight weeks in the past year. Gjoa now has priority for our future time, energy and money and unfortunately, the van had to go.

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