Saturday, 2 August 2008


Bulkeley Estate

Baron Hill

We are on holiday on the island of Anglesey in Wales. Having walked in to Beaumaris we stroll along the front. After checking out a boatyard at Gallows Point we decide to try and make it a round walk. On the map we can see a bridge that goes over the road past the cemetery with an un-metalled way marked on it. Climbing up the hill we find the bridge and an unfenced track that takes us to the bridge above. To the left the track goes off for a couple of clicks to the coast road and later the penny drops that at that far end is where some very ornate gates are. Our way is to the right. After about half a K down a good path through dense woodland we come to a second bridge over another public road. Just before it is a ruined stone house built into the hillside. The front is of dressed stone with a rough stone extension at the back. The roof is gone as are the interior timbers leaving its three story height open to the elements. Trees are encroaching on the walls, roots finding their way through the stonework.

After a brief exploration of the gutted building we press on over the bridge and shortly afterwards notice a flight of wide shallow steps to our right. Some way down the steps, near their bottom and in the centre, a narrow entrance contains a steeper flight of stairs descending into darkness. We feel our way down cautiously and come to a T-junction. At either side are exits bathed in gloomy green light. We take one each and find ourselves on either side of a semi circle of stone columns. Beyond is an arrangement of low stone walls. Rhododendrons of huge size are everywhere creating an impassable jungle. We are looking at the remains of what was a formal garden and the stairs we descended lead from what was once a viewing point.

We retrace our steps and continue along the track. After a short distance the way bends to the right, then left again and we are confronted by the remains of an enormous house, looming out of the dense woodland, Like the first building we came to, the roof is gone, together with all the interior timbers. In the centre there are traces of an older stone house but the majority of the building would seem to be Victorian. Here and there are traces of the house’s former glory, some flaking, moulded plasterwork, a beautifully jointed, but now partially collapsed, stone staircase and pieces of slate baluster.

At the end of the south wing are Kitchens, servant’s quarters, the boiler house, stables, coach houses and a large greenhouse frame. At the front of the house above the main entrance is a big balcony, which once gave views across formal gardens, down over parkland to Beaumaris Castle and the strait beyond. Low walls and staircases remain poking out from the jungle of trees and shrubs that becomes impenetrable within a few metres of the house.

In the green gloom and light drizzle the mood, although tinged with excitement at the enormity of the find, is one of melancholy decay. How the mighty are fallen.

Later on a little digging around reveals that it was the Bulkeley family estate. Not far away on a hilltop that can be seen for miles is an obelisk, which is the Bulkeley Memorial and in Beaumaris Church is a heavily graffitied alabaster tomb from about 1490 containing the remains of a William Bulkeley and his wife.

I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.



Not quite sands here but you get the point.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Driving in India

At first glance it is utter chaos, however after being driven around for a while a number of things become apparent:

Rear view mirrors are not used unless the driver’s attention is alerted by a horn blast. Overtaking may take place in any lane, including the verge. Going round roundabouts clockwise is optional. When turning right on to a busy street, if turning right again after a short while, it is acceptable to drive up the road on the wrong side rather than crossing the traffic. Traffic lights are for guidance purposes only. When turning right or onto a main road it is not necessary to wait for a break in traffic. Communication with other vehicles and pedestrians is by horn. For example a short beep means, “Hello, I’m behind you, please get out of the way so I can come past.” A longer beep means “Look I asked you once nicely, will you move over now.” A prolonged blast means “Are you fecking deaf or what, get out of my way you bastard.” The equation would seem to be that the better the driver, the less he will need to use his horn.

Traffic control is achieved by the occasional policeman with a whistle, random crash barriers across half the road, road works, potholes and unmarked sleeping policemen. These last are often placed just before junctions to give other traffic a fighting chance of joining the flow.

Random hazards are bullock carts, pedestrians, cows, goats, monkeys and the occasional elephant.

Having said all this there is a great disincentive to causing an accident. Should you kill or injure somebody you run a great risk of being attacked by an angry mob. While we were in Bangalore a careless bus driver ran into the back of a motorcycle, killing the rider, who landed on his head. The enraged populace burnt out three buses from the same bus company, although they did allow the passengers off first. Given that most motorcyclists ride without helmets, many have their wives sitting sidesaddle on the back, and sometimes a couple of small children on the petrol tank the possibilities of serious injury, when in collision with a bike, even at slow speeds, are pretty high. Yet despite the fact that most buses, some trucks and cars look as though their bodywork has been shaped with a sledgehammer in many days of driving we only passed the aftermath of one serious accident, where a bus, probably heavily overloaded, had rolled down an embankment at the side of the road.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Itinerant Builders and Roadworkers in Bangalore, Southern India

Scattered here and there, in small and large groups, on bits of waste ground where building or road works are going on, are encampments of ragged tents and crude temporary structures. They often take the form of a bamboo framework constructed of a row of half circles linked by horizontal purlins. This is covered with odd bits of plastic sheeting, usually blue, and occasionally with dried palm leaves, to make a small low room directly on the bare earth. Each one of these is home to a family while the work lasts. When the road or building is finished the workers and their families must pack up and move on.

We are visiting in the cool of winter when the daytime temperature reaches 29C. I cannot imagine how the people tolerate these abysmal living conditions without rising up in angry revolution, yet the families we pass are invariably cheerful. The parents wave and smile while the children, who should be in school but aren’t, rush up laughing, keen to be photographed.
“One photo, one photo Uncle.”

Tuesday, 19 February 2008


Arjuna's Penance

The Shore Temple

I first visited this southern Indian coastal town twenty-three years ago. It was a quiet place made remarkable by the stunning shore and rock cut temples, huge relief carvings on the granite boulders, together with a school for sculpture and a town full of practising sculptors working in stone.

The intervening years have transformed it to a noisy, bustling, tourist hustling destination. It is now 5$ US for foreigners to visit the Five Rathas and the Shore Temples, which incidentally are no longer on the shore. A rocky promontory has been built separating them from the sea, under the auspices of UNESCO, ostensibly to protect the stone and foundations of the temples from salt-water erosion. They are indeed badly eroded, however as they were built 1300 years ago this is hardly surprising. The altered setting puts the temples some distance from the sea and has deprived the buildings of a considerable amount of drama, but made it easier to enclose them and thus charge for entrance. (Is this cynicism on my part? Treatments exist to seal and protect stone; surely this, together with rocks to break the force of the waves, would have been an aesthetically better solution.)

Having said this it is still a rewarding visit. The rock cut temples are extraordinary. The Five Rathas were created around 630 AD and are a set of monolithic, carved granite interpretations of the major wooden temple styles of the period. The mind boggles at the amount of work required to realise these buildings, especially in such hard and intractable stone. There are other rock cut and cave temples around the town together with relief carvings, including the magnificent ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ depicting the descent of the Ganges. The riverbed is represented by a cleft in the rock surrounded by people and animals, including some beautifully carved elephants. The Shore Temples are from a slightly later period, around 700 and are made from dressed blocks of granite.

Three of the Five Rathas

Rock Cut Shiva Temple

Although large-scale tourist development has invaded the town with many hotels and shops flogging stuff from all over India, there are still plenty of sculptors at work there, some of them producing extremely fine work. The large-scale pieces are predominantly in granite, with smaller work in softer stone that allows fine detail. There is also bronze casting using the lost wax method and the school of sculpture continues to thrive.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Naga Puja

Wandering along a back road in a Bangalore suburb we had passed an old termite mound that had been wound around with string, covered with the scattered remains of flower garlands and anointed with orange and red pigment. I assumed it was sacred for some reason, but thought no more about it until, on February 12th when passing that way again, we found the hillock, and another we had not previously noticed, to be a hive of activity. A crowd of women, watched by a man and a small boy were taking it in turns to make offerings to the old nests. They had garlanded them with fresh flowers, coloured powder and made offerings of rice, banana and coconut, stuffing some of the rice into holes, then carefully wound new string round the mounds, completing the effect with bunches of smoking joss sticks.

At the second, and more popular, of the two hillocks we were made welcome and given bits of banana and sweet rice to eat. A teenage girl in the group spoke good English and explained that it was the day to make offerings to the snake. We noticed a neatly folded sari on top of the nest and enquired as to its purpose but she was unable to explain, just saying that it was something that had always been done.

T. Richard Blurton, in his book on Hindu Art casts some light on to what we were witnessing. The Cobra (Naga) is a creature associated with the god Shiva. ‘In the linga form of the god snakes are often shown carved around the shaft or are seen swimming up the path of the yoni. The phallic imagery of such usage is clear.’ He goes on to explain that because of the snake’s links to fertility and due to the fact that they often take over old ant hills for their burrows, these are often made into Naga shrines, which are especially visited by women seeking the birth of male children. They will conduct special pujas there leaving food, milk, glass bangles and miniature cradles. Shiva and the Naga are very popular in this part of India and we had noticed many shrines featuring sculpted cobras, often intertwining.

A possible explanation for the folded saris on the termite hill is that during the course of a normal puja, the god is often garlanded with flowers and dressed in fine material. It is not really feasible to do this with the mound so perhaps the garments placed on the top are a gesture in this direction.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Devon Snapshots 2

Otterton Round Walk
This is a round walk of about 6 miles, depending on what point you chose to leave the Coast Path. The walk begins in the village of Otterton, on the west side of the bridge, following the river and heading south. Cross the river at the road bridge near the river's mouth, where there are good views across to Budleigh Salterton. The path curves left and rises to the cliff tops and the panorama of Lyme Bay and the English Channel. It is worth walking as far as the beach at Ladram Bay, through the rather ugly caravan park, as there are striking sea stacks there. The route then turns inland via small roads and back to Otterton.
The Bridge at Otterton

The Mouth of the River Otter

The Coast Path

Ladram Beach

Friday, 16 November 2007

Devon Snapshots 1

Branscombe to Beer
This short walk is one of the most beautiful on the South East Devon coast path.
It can be done as a circular walk and is best done by walking the undercliff coming from the Branscombe direction. Take the overcliff section when coming from Beer as the ascent is more gentle. The path on the Branscombe side is a steep flight of steps.
If you are starting from Branscombe, park in the beach carpark (£1) and take the coastpath, on the left, to Beer (2 miles). After about 1/3 of a mile the path forks. Take the right hand fork which goes through a caravan park and leads to the undercliff. The path re-joins the overcliff path after about 1 mile and then continues on down to Beer.
The Undercliff

View towards Branscombe with the 'Napoli' in the bay on the left

View towards Beer