Thursday, March 31, 2016

Journey through Dorset, England

Residing in landlocked Colorado, I often yearn for a sight of the sea - something obviously that requires a plane flight either east or west from the Rockies, or a reservoir and a lot of imagination. Having grown up in England, the ocean was never too far away; there is just something about the sea/coastline that is mesmerizing.

The nearest coastline to my home county of Oxfordshire is directly south to the English channel, about a 2 hour drive. The journey south passes through several counties: Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorset. Dorset was my destination in March 2016, and is a county full of remarkable landscapes, coastlines, and world class man made and natural wonders.

My journey through Dorset began in the eastern part of the County, and from perhaps the best known castle in Dorset - Corfe Castle, if not the whole of the Southwest of England (perhaps next to Tintagel in fame). The castle was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the first Norman King of England, and through the centuries was home to many kings. By the time of the English Civil war in the 17th century the castle was no longer a royal fortress, and eventually succumbed to sieges and demolished leaving it in its present state. The castle today is managed by the National Trust and open year round.


Corfe Castle, Isle of Purbeck

5 miles southwest of Corfe Castle lies the beautiful Kimmeridge Bay. This section of the English coastline from near Swanage in East Dorset to Exmouth in East Devon is known as the Jurassic Coast, and is a World Heritage Site. The bay is noted for its rock shelf's that extend far out into the water, and for Clavell Tower that sits above the bay on watch. The tower was built in 1830 as an observatory, and today can be rented out for a romantic stay, although you better book way in advance!!.

Kimmeridge Bay

Clavell Tower

Heading west from Kimmeridge along the South West Coast Path you pass through a military firing area (this area is closed and inaccessible except for weekends). If the sound of heavy tank fire is not enough to steer you away, then the threat of being shot at will be; shells being fired, and machine guns can be heard as far as away as Weymouth. Just past this firing area though (about 8 miles west of Kimmeridge) lies the 2 icons of Dorset, Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door. These beautiful natural wonders of Southern England are not to be missed, and a favourite for many school geology field trips. In fact, the last time I probably visited these 2 icons, was as a nipper, and I am sure the beauty of them washed straight over my head at that time.

Lulworth Cove

Durdle Door

Continuing west along the coastline from Durdle Door you reach White Nothe and Ringstead Bay, this section of the South West Coast Path is particularly beautiful. The walk from the National Trust car park east to White Nothe is stunning, but be aware it does follow closely to the edge of the cliffs.

White Nothe looking east

White Nothe looking west

White Nothe old Coast Guard lookout and cottages

The coastal landscape west of Ringstead Bay gradually mellows out, and high cliffs give way to soft rolling hills. This more subtle landscape is equally as interesting, and some superb bays await those who love sandy beaches. The town of Weymouth lies only 7 miles west of Ringstead, and is the most significant town between Bournemouth to the East and Torquay to the West. Weymouth Bay was home to the 2012 Olympic Sailing events, and is an interesting town to wander around.

Colourful Old Harbour in Weymouth

Impressive Chisel Beach as seen from Portland

South of Weymouth lies the Isle of Portland, it is the southern most point in the County of Dorset. This was my first visit to Portland, well the first visit I remember since being about 4 feet tall perhaps. Probably the best known claim to fame for the Island is its Limestone "Portland Stone". The stone quarries are clearly visible as you drive across the island, and the stone was used in St. Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. At the very southern tip of the island, known as Portland Bill, are 3 lighthouses. The original lighthouses date from the 1700's, and the "modern" one was built in 1906.

Portland Bill modern day lighthouse

Heading west from Portland and Weymouth the coastline is less rugged, until you come across a few cliffs in and around West Bay. These red cliffs are quite different to the cliffs in eastern Dorset, and really stand out. One section of cliffs is particularly well known, since the TV series "Broadchurch" was partly filmed at this location.

The cliffs at West Bay of "Broadchurch" fame

Shaftesbury

Dorset is a County that should be on everyone's bucket list, it really has a little of everything - from rolling hills, quaint stone villages, sandy beaches to dramatic coastlines. It is a county I have visited many times, but one I never really ever explored very well. For more information click to view the Visit-Dorset website.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Home for the Holidays

The Colorado winter, at least in the lowlands, can often be very mild and dry, but not December 2015. It seems like the white stuff has been falling more often than a Brit visits his local pub, ok, that may be unfair to Colorado, it does not quite snow that much :). In reality the snow did not arrive in full force until mid-December. The 12/13th we saw light snow, then on the 15th we saw 10"(25cm) of snow fall, and on the 25th/26th we saw another 2"(5cm) officially giving us a "White Christmas". The temperatures have remained pretty nippy, meaning any melting is just a tease, as it re-freezes overnight or gets added to from a new storm.

What this all meant was, I had to finally give in to winter and ditch any idea of cycling outside; instead I dusted off my cameras, hiking boots, and my snowshoes!. Christmas week was a week for me to explore (or re-explore) some old haunts, and some new ones in Boulder County, CO. 


Day 1: I started off with a barn that had caught my eye on many occasion whilst traversing the roads of Boulder County on my bicycle. (Note: Click any image for a larger slideshow view)



Patriotic Barn Highway 52

My second stop of the day was an old haunt called Sawhill & Walden ponds wildlife preserve. These old gravel pits close to Boulder are one of the top places in the area to view birds and waterfowl, although winter time is not always the best time for that. I had a pleasant stroll in the snow though, and did capture a couple of keepers.

Sawhill Ponds Winter Bunny

Sawhill Ponds

Day 2: I had planned to head up into the mountains, but the forecast for strong winds was less that appealing, so exploring closer to home was a better option again. At 8am I made the decision to hike at Rabbit Mountain, a Boulder County Park within 10 miles of home. My first stop on route to Rabbit Mountain was an old painted Silo, and one I often cycle past, and have photographed previously. The Silo and Rabbit Mountain are close to the foothills, and the wind was howling even here.

The Sunflower Silo

Once at Rabbit Mountain I decided to hike to the Little Thompson Overlook, I figured since that trail was on the East side of the mountain it would provide some shelter from the wind, and I was right, it did. The trail is a very pleasant 3.5 mile out and back, with views starting out to the continental divide, and switching to views to the Plains after 0.5 mile.

Ponderosa Pine

The Plant and wildlife at Rabbit Mountain is in the foothills ecosystem, where the plains meet the mountains. Ponderosa Pine and Juniper thrive, and alpine flowers in the warmer months, along with rattlesnakes!.

Little Thompson River Valley

Day 3: A fresh dusting of snow arrived overnight on the 23rd, along with a thick cover of freezing fog. My plan was to venture into the mountains and snowshoe, the wind forecast was finally a little less hurricane like. The fresh snow and frozen fog glistening on the trees was too good to pass up shooting though, so I first headed to Golden Ponds, a recreation area 0.5 mile from home.

The Geese take flight

The Fog bank clears

After scurrying back home from Golden Ponds, I quickly loaded my winter gear and snowshoes, and headed towards the hills. The journey up the canyon and along the Peak to Peak highway was very slow going, the overnight snow had made the roads slick and snow covered. I finally arrived at the Brainard Lake Winter Parking area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness area mid morning. To my surprise there were a handful of cars already there, but even more of a surprise there was ZERO wind.

I had snowshoed this area in the past, later in the season, and on both occasions the snow levels were fairly low. This season the mountains had been getting a lot of snow though, and this week in particular had received heavy snowfall. What is great about this area is they have a designated snowshoe trail, more info can be found here from CMC Boulder. My plan was to make it to Brainard Lake and back, about a 5 mile round trip, but starting out it was clear that a lot of snow had recently fallen, and that not alot of people had come through to compact the trails. It was hard going in certain areas, and the final 0.5 mile I was breaking trail. The closer I got to Brainard Lake, the deeper the snow, and the harder it got. I made it just past the campground area, and decided that snowshoeing in knee deep snow by that point was too much work. The fresh snowfall made for a beautiful winter scene within the trees.

Fresh Powder

Where the Snowshoe trail intersects with the road

Day 4: For a second day in a row I headed into the mountains, this time for a more relaxed excursion to Estes Park and a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. No fresh snow had fallen overnight this time, and the sun was shining, although the wind had made a return up high. First stop was RMNP to activate our annual pass, and take a quick drive through to spot any wildlife. Well no wildlife was to be seen anywhere, I think they were all sheltering from the wind and bitter temperatures. The wander around Estes was just as brief too, the 14f temps ate into your body like an annoying tick.

Horseshoe Park view

Monday, October 5, 2015

WW1 Battlefield Tour - In Flanders Fields, Belgium

World War 1 (WW1), First World War, or the "Great War", always seemed so distant in the past to me, after all it was 100 years ago. I only ever knew one of my relatives that was around during the 1914-1918 war, and that was my great grandmother, my paternal grandfathers mother. My great grandmothers husband was "Lewis William Moore", and he fought with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the early stages of the war, eventually being discharged in 1916 as a result of wounds, and later dying in 1942 likely from gas related side effects.

My Uncle (my Fathers brother) has spent a great amount of time researching our family WW1 history; this family history, and along with the 100 year anniversary being in 2014, I personally have gained a new interest and respect for all the men, and my distant relatives who fought during that time. 


In September 2015 I had the chance to spend 4 days in Belgium, and a full day touring the Flanders area - although that was not long enough by a long shot!. We booked a battlefield tour, with a small company (link at bottom of the page), that only took 8 of us in total (3 Brits, 3 Americans, and 2 Australians). The following images and text are a timeline of our day spent in the Flanders area. For more detailed info on WW1 and specific battles, I will include links throughout the blog, and at the bottom of the page.


Our first stop in Flanders was NE of Ypres (Leper) at the village of Saint Julien, it was here that the German's first used poison gas, the date was 22 April, 1915. The result was 6,035 Canadian Casualties (1 man in every 3 became a casualty, and 1 in every 9 was killed). As a tribute to the Canadian casualties there is a very moving memorial, called the "Brooding Soldier".


Saint Julien Canadian Memorial

Saint Julien Canadian Memorial

From Saint Julien our journey continued in a SEE direction through beautiful farmland, it's very hard to imagine this whole area was almost a barren landscape of mud and craters back in the 1910's. Our tour guide pointed out several shells poking out of the farm fields, a very common occurrence even 100 years after the war!.

Our next stop was Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. This cemetery was the one I was expecting to be the most moving, and it certainly does move you. There are nearly 12,000 graves, and nearly 34,000 names on the memorial to the missing - including "George Frederick Worboys", my Great Great Uncle on my Paternal Grandmother's side. George we believe was killed during the First Battle of Kemmel Ridge, in April 1918. The cemetery today sits upon a hill in the Passchendaele area, this ridge was strategically important to both sides.


Many many unmarked graves, 8,000+

Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot, memorial wall to the missing is on the right

After the very moving visit to Tyne Cot, our journey continued a short distance to the village of Zonnebeke. This village is home to the Memorial Museum devoted to the battle of Passchendaele (aka third battle of Ypres). The battle of Passchendaele took place between July to November of 1917, and consisted of many battles, including the battle for Menin Road Ridge, and the battle of Polygon Wood. Commonwealth casualties were reported to be nearly 245,000, and German casualties to be nearly 400,000. Most of the villages were obliterated in this region during this battle, and it is very hard to comprehend when you visit them today.

Re-constructed trenches at the museum, hard to believe the soldiers spent so
much time in these during WW1

Continuing a short distance directly south of Zonnebeke is the site of the battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3 October 1917. Here lies the small Polygon Wood cemetery and much larger Buttes New British Cemetery. The 5th Australian division captured the high ground in Polygon Wood during this battle, and the memorial to them stands atop of the highest point. The Australian in our tour party laid some poppies to pay respect to his relatives from the 5th division, a very moving moment for us all.




Most of the original trenches, dugouts, pillboxes etc are on private farmland, but you can see many from the road side while driving around the area. One of the original trenches that is accessible (at your own risk) is along the Menin Road at Hooghe. This is a German trench that sits beside a large bomb crater now filled with water.

Water filled bomb crater

Pile of old ammunition at the Hooge trench site

Original German trenches, now partially collapsed

Our next stop was the City of Ypres, an ancient town that was an extremely strategic location during WW1. The City stood along the path of the German's route through to France, and during the fierce fighting during the battle of Passchendaele the City was obliterated (see this picture). After the war it was decided the City centre would be re-built to exactly the same layout as pre-war, and today it is amazing to stand in the center and imagine how it would of been in 1917. 

The Cloth Hall which was shell blasted and all but a ruin in 1917

The Menin Gate stands in Ypres, opened in 1927. This structure is a truly moving and impressive memorial for all the missing soldiers of Britain and the Commonwealth.


This side view shows the scale of the Menin Gate

The Menin Gate, "The Last Post" is read here every day at 8pm

The Menin Gate

The month preceding the Battle of Passchendaele saw the Battle of Messines Ridge, 7-14 June 1917. The objective was for the British to capture the German defenses on this high ground south of Ypres, and move north to Passchendaele, and eventually the Belgium coast. The British tunneled under the German front line on the Ridge, and laid 19 mines, the battle began with there detonation. The mine craters can still be seen today, filled with water. The craters resemble peaceful ponds, sitting in the middle of green farmland; but when you stop and ponder, you realize that these are memorials to those who died when the mines were detonated.

One of the mine craters from the Battle of Messines Ridge

I have a handful of distant relatives on both sides of my family that fought and died during WW1, but only 2 that are buried or commemorated in Flanders. The grave of my Great Great Uncle on my Maternal Grandmothers side is located a very short distance NE of Ypres centre. John (or Jack) Glassbrook was a master weaver for William Morris, and was based in Edinburgh prior to the call into military service. John joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and served in the Tank Corps. He arrived on active duty in Flanders in 1917, when his tank was hit during the attack on Greenberg Ridge, losing his life on 26 September, 1917.

Of all the WW1 battle sites, memorials and cemeteries we visited, John's grave was probably the most moving; the Wieltje Farm cemetery is a very small cemetery (115 graves) in the middle of a farm field, filled with head height corn crop when we visited. What was so moving about the site, besides the fact it contains one of my relatives, was that these graves were most likely dug soon after the soldiers were killed. This means this cemetery is a "battlefield cemetery", unlike Tyne Cot where soldiers were moved to after the war. Standing within this small cemetery, gazing over the corn, and imagining what happened on this spot 98 years ago, for me really put it into perspective.
I laid some poppies and a cross to pay my respects, may John Glassbrook never be forgotten.


Wieltje Farm Cemetery

John (Jack) Glassbrook's grave

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, 1915

For more information about WW1, the battle sites, cemeteries and memorials, the following links are a great source:
World War One on BBC.com
World War One on Wikipedia
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
A Guide to WW1 battlefields and history
Flanders Fields Battlefield tours

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park

Every year we buy a Rocky Mountain NP pass, and always have good intentions of getting our money's worth, but other hobbies, chores... always seem to get in the way. The 7-day entry to the Park is $20, and the annual pass is $40, so really is a no brainer.

This time of year (summer) the park visitation is at its peak, but the Wild Basin area to the south of Estes Park is a little less "touristy"; however the parking area is still filled by 9am!. Wild Basin is what the park refers to as the "lush southeast corner", a valley filled with wildlife, waterfalls, lakes and flowers. It is definitely a beautiful corner of the park, and an area well worth exploring.


From the parking area (8,566 feet in elevation) the trail begins to follow the North St. Vrain Creek, and the sound of water is always close by. The smell of pine is in the air too, and the lack of oxygen is always present. The first stop along the trail is only 0.3 miles from the trailhead, and is Copeland Falls.



Copeland Falls

From Copeland Falls the trail continues to follow the creek, dipping in and out of wonderfully scented Pine forest. Along the trail you are bound to see ground squirrels, chipmunks, and if lucky deer or even bears. About 1.4 miles from the trailhead you will reach a major wooden bridge crossing the St. Vrain, this is a wonderful spot to just find a rock and sit and enjoy the sound of the rushing water.

North St. Vrain Creek

North St. Vrain Creek

After crossing the bridge over the North St. Vrain the trail starts to climb, and shortly veers away from the hustle and bustle of the big creek. The trail starts to follow a smaller creek that appears to have been blocked by a beaver dam, making a very lush green wetland area. After climbing 0.4 mile you reach the magical Calypso Cascades.

Calypso Cascades

Beautiful lush vegetation around the creeks

Calypso Cascades is the turning around point for many people, and makes for a beautiful 3.6 mile (700 feet in elevation gain) round trip hike. But if you continue on for another 0.9 mile you reach another gem of Rocky Mountain NP, Ouzel Falls. The trail between Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls is vastly different, it is much rockier, alot less lush, and more Alpine - but no less beautiful. The flowers along this 0.9 mile section are abundant - Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, and many more.

One of many wild flowers along the trail

the beautiful Columbine

The 0.9 mile section of trail from Calypso Cascades to Ouzel Falls is definitely a little harder; it climbs 250 feet over that distance, is rockier, and has less shade. The prize at the end is well worth it though, a spectacular waterfall reminiscent of what we experienced in the Blue Ridge Mountains whilst living in North Carolina.

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls was our turn around point, and since the foot bridge was washed out during 2013 floods, is the turn around point for most people. The mileage to this point is 2.7 miles, with 950 feet in elevation gain, making the entire hike 5.4 miles of beauty. For more info about this area, check out the official Rocky Mountain National Park website HERE.

Happy Hiking!.