Wisley Gardens

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Yesterday we went to visit the RHS Wisley Gardens in Surrey, and signs of Spring are definitely in the air.  Although a lot of construction work is now going on – and hopefully will soon be finished – there is still a lot to see and do.

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Tropical Rainforest

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Rainforest

Tropical Rainforest, Papua

I am currently reading Lord Jim by Conrad, and  I came across this tremendous description of  tropical rainforest looking over from a high vantage point.  It reminded me so much of our former adventures in Papua New Guinea that I had to copy the description, and attach a photo of rainforest in PNG. Sadly, much of the rainforest is now under threat, or has disappeared, due to deforestation for the woodchip or palm oil industries.  I was greatly saddened to see this in Borneo a few years ago.

I sat on the stump of a tree at his feet, and below us stretched the land, the great expanse of the forests, sombre under the sunshine, rolling like a sea, with glints of winding rivers, the grey spots of villages, and here and there a clearing, like an islet of light among the dark waves of continuous tree-tops. A brooding gloom lay over this vast and monotonous landscape; the light fell on it as if into an abyss.  The land devoured the sunshine; only far off, along the coast, the empty ocean, smooth and polished within the faint haze, seemed to rise up to the sky in a wall of steel.

(Conrad, Lord Jim, 1900)

Tuscany 2018

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Introduction

This year, we have decided to go on an organised rail tour of Tuscany, Italy. We are travelling with Great Rail Journeys, departing 1st September and returning on 10th September.

Brochure

Brochure – fruit and wine of Tuscany

Tour map

Map of Tour to Tuscany

We leave St. Pancras on the 1st September, and travel by Eurostar to Paris (Gare du Nord).  Then from Gare du Lyon to Aix-Let-Bains, where we transfer by coach to our hotel in Chambery. Next day, we continue by train to Florence via Milan, and then transfer by coach to the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini.  The map above shows the places that we will be visiting, by rail and coach, with 7 nights in a hotel in Montacatini.

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Montecatini – a hilltop spa town

Following an overnight stay in Turin on the 9th September, we return via Paris to London on the 10th September.

 

Scotney Castle

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Scotney Castle is a medieval 14th century moated castle situated in the valley of the Bewl river near Lamberhurst in Kent. It forms the centrepiece of a magnificent hillside garden overlooked by the Victorian mansion.

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View overlooking the castle from the Victorian mansion

The Castle was originally built by Roger de Ashburnham in the 14th century to guard against the threat of French raids on the Sussex coast.

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The south tower is the only one of four original towers of the old castle still standing. It is connected to a later Elizabethan manor, built by the Darrell family in the 16thC.

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In 1778 Edward Hussey bought Scotney from the Darrell family, and in 1830 his grandson built a new Victorian mansion at the top of the hill overlooking the old castle. The picturesque view was further enhanced by partly demolishing the ruined castle and excavating a quarry for building stone.

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The Victorian mansion – New Scotney Castle

Hussey planted a profusion of trees and masses of azaleas and rhododendrons, so that the garden is a blaze of colour in early summer.

Beverley, East Yorkshire

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Beverley is an attractive historic market town, religious centre and the county town of the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Old Town includes many fine historic buildings and cobbled streets. The wealth of Beverley is partly founded on the wool trade of the Middle Ages.

Beverley Minster is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than many cathedrals, and is regarded as a gothic masterpiece.

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Beverley Market Square

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Beverley still retains the traditional white telephone boxes, dating from when Hull and Beverley had their own private telephone system.

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Some interesting road names in Beverley Old Town

Beverley North Bar – gate to the Old Town, bordering Beverley Minster, built in the 15th C

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St. Mary’s Church – another fine ecclesiastical building in Beverley

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Major earthquake in Kyushu

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A major 6.4 magnitude earthquake, hit the island of Kyushu on Thursday 14th April. The focus of the earthquake was in Kumamoto Prefecture and the town of Mashiki on the western side of the island. About 44,000 people were evacuated following collapsed buildings and damaged infrastructure. Nine people have been confirmed dead and at least 850 people injured.

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The initial tremor measured a maximum 7 on the Japanese intensity scale, equivalent to the force of the 1995 Kobe disaster and the March 11, 2011, earthquake in east Japan. So far, however, the damage caused in Kyushu seems low in comparison.

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The collapsed stonewall of Kumamoto Castle

Japan’s Self Defense Forces have entered Hiroyasu, in a mountainous region of Kumamoto prefecture, to inspect the damage caused to roads and housing by the earthquake. There has been significant damage to wooden housing.

In addition to possible aftershocks, there is also concern regarding possible volcanic activity and volcanoes in the region are being closely monitored. Mashiki town is situated on the western flanks of Mt. Aso, an active volcano which lies within the Aso caldera, one of the largest calderas in the world. A level 2 warning – meaning people should not approach a volcano’s crater – has been in place for Aso in Kumamoto prefecture since November 2015.

Japanese Manhole Covers

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Japanese manhole covers are extremely varied, artistic and colourful in design. They reflect the culture and history of the local area in which they are found.

Usuki (Kyushu)

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Usuki is a port and former samurai castle town located on the east coast of Oita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu.

The manhole cover depicts a 17th century European ship and “kabosu” fruits. The sailing ship reflects the fact that in 1600 a Dutch ship, the “De Liefde”, was washed ashore on the coast of Usuki. It was the first ship from the Netherlands to reach Japan, and had an Englishman on board who acted as a pilot. The Englishman was William Adams. He became a foreign affairs advisor to the Japanese Tokugawa government in Edo, and was given the name “Miura Anjin” (Anjin-san). This marked one of the most important points in Japan’s trading history. There was conflict between Catholic Portuguese and Spanish missionaries and Protestant Dutch. The missionaries said that the Dutch were pirates. The Japanese government selected to trade with the Dutch, the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C). They established a factory (trading post) in Hirado in 1609, which was later moved to Dejima in 1641.

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The kabosu fruit is a lemon-lime hybrid citrus fruit famous in Oita prefecture and Usuki, brought over from China during the Edo period.

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The kabuso fruit is used for flavouring a variety of dishes and drinks, such as sashimi, miso soup, noodles, shochu and various alcoholic beverages.

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This cover shows street directions and depicts a fugu fish (blow fish). Fugu fish, the fabled poisonous blowfish, is a delicacy in Usuki, and there are a large number of fugu restaurants in the town.

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A fire hydrant cover in Usuki.

Japanese volcano Mt. Aso on the island of Kyushu erupts

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Mount Aso, a volcano on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan, erupted blasting a plume of ash 2km high, and falling as far away as 4km. Aso erupted without warning in one of the Nakadake craters in the centre of the volcanic caldera, one of the largest calderas in the world.

150914-mt-aso-eruption-jpo-305a_439f040cb9cb9b4418ac4bf1dba6af8b.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000The 1,592m Mount Aso is one of the most active peaks in Japan, and is also a popular tourist spot. About 100 tourists were in the vicinity of the volcano when it erupted, but they were safely evacuated. There were no reports of damage or injuries. There was some disruption to local flights.

Japan lies on the “Ring of Fire” – a belt of active volcanoes around the edges of the Pacific Ocean – and is home to more than 100 active volcanoes. Aso last erupted in April 2015, sending ash 1500 m into the air.

Mount Ontake in central Japan erupted unexpectedly in 2014, killing 63 people, the worst volcanic disaster for nearly 90 years

Hastings

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Hastings pier

Hastings pier

Following a disastrous fire in October 2010, the pier at Hastings is currently undergoing extensive reconstruction, due to be completed in the summer of 2015.

On the day we visited the coastline was shrouded in fog rolling in from the sea. This is an advection fog, caused by warm southerly air moving over a cold sea.

Hastings Lifeboat

Hastings Lifeboat

Maggie's Cafe

Maggie’s Cafe

Maggie’s is a renowned fish and chip cafe, located in the Old Town close to the tall wooden Net Shops

A walk in Knole Park

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Knole House

Knole House

Although the House is closed for the winter, the surrounding deer park remains open throughout the year. The park affords many possibilities for walking, especially in the late winter sunshine.

Knole Park

Knole Park

The park is situated on the dip-slope of the Lower Greensand; the underlying geology is sandstone, and it is dissected by a network of dry valleys running northwards across the plateau. The dry valleys were cut by streams during a cold phase of the last Ice Age, about 18,000 years ago. The sandy soils are acidic and relatively infertile, supporting woodland, heath and grassland.

Trees in Knole Park

View towards the North Downs

View towards the North Downs

To the north of the Greensand Ridge, on which Knole Park is situated, lies the North Downs – the steep scarp face of which can be seen in the picture above.  The Downs are composed of Chalk and the valley between the Downs and the Greensand Ridge is underlain by Gault Clay.

Gates in the wall surrounding Knole House

Gates in the wall surrounding Knole House