Monday, October 17, 2016

Escape to the Country

I have called home quite a few places across the UK, and the USA: from Cities to Suburbia, to Towns and Hamlets; from humid hot climates to a dry desert climate, and everything in between. Whilst I do love cities, particularly London and New York, my heart has always been in the countryside. I spent most of my school years in Thame, Oxfordshire, a small historic market town (11,500 population +/-). 

Thame dates back to the Anglo-Saxon era and gets its name from the River running to its north. The town is situated close to the Chiltern Hills (area of outstanding natural beauty), and a stone's throw from the County seat of Oxford. In 1138 Thame Abbey was founded, later demolished in the 16th century, and incorporated into what is now Thame Park house. The parish Church "St. Mary the Virgin" dates back to the 13th century, and the nearby Prebendal (Church buildings) date also to the 13th century.

Thame's 13th-century parish church

The Prebendal in the background, once the home of Robin Gibb

Gravestone from 1668

In the center of Thame stands the town hall, a relatively new building in Thame's history, built in 1888. Several other notable buildings line the high street, mostly dating from the 16th and 17th centuries; including the Six Bells and the Bird Cage pubs, the latter doubling up as a prison during the Napoleonic wars.

Thame Town Hall

Six Bells public house

The Bird Cage public house

The Chiltern Hills lie a few miles southeast of Thame, and are one of my favourite "local" areas for walking and cycling. Much of the chalk hills are designated as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty", they encompass approximately 300 square miles over 4 Counties.

View from the Chilterns

Chiltern wildlife - the Common Darter

On the southeastern edge of the Chilterns, close to the towns of Chalfont St. Giles and Chalfont St. Peter lies the "Chiltern Open Air museum". This museum was founded in 1976, and its purpose is to preserve buildings from the Chilterns that would otherwise have fallen into disrepair. The museum has quite a range of buildings, and you could easily spend half a day or more exploring.

18th-century barn converted into cottages in 1770

WW1 Nissen hut

1886 Tin Chapel

1826 Toll House

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dockyards and Dickens

"Rule Britannia! rule the waves: Britons never will be slaves" - this famous Poem by James Thompson dates from the 1700's, and has long been associated with the Royal Navy, and sung famously every year at the last night of the Proms.

Great Britain has had a close link to the sea for many many centuries, and shipbuilding was a very important industry during the heyday of sea supremacy and exploration. One very important dockyard was Chatham, on the River Medway in Kent, established in 1567 by Elizabeth I. The dockyard at its peak employed over 10,000 workers, and over its history built 500 ships, including Lord Nelson's famous HMS Victory.

HMS Cavalier WW2 Navy ship

One of the most striking buildings at the Royal dockyard is the Ropery, this building dates from 1728, is 346m long, and is capable of producing 300m (1000ft) long hemp ropes (still in use today). The quickest way to travel along the length of the building when making rope is by bicycle.

The Ropery

The Ropery

Every September the Royal Dockyard hosts a 1940's weekend, you really feel like you have been transported back in time. The sound of Vera Lynn, Andrew Sisters, and Frank Sinatra fills the air; the smell of fish n'chips tempts you to the food vans and costumed actors really look the part.

Just a short distance south along the Medway river from Chatham Royal Dockyard is the City of Rochester. Rochester has links back to the Celts, the Romans, and Saxons, and in more recent times has strong links with Charles Dickens. Dickens lived just across the river Medway, many of his stories are based in and around Rochester, most famously "Great Expectations".

Rochester Cathedral dating from 1080AD

The city has long needed guarding against an attack due to its proximity to the river Medway and the Kent coast. Rochester castle is a very prominent landmark; dating back to 1087, the stone keep is one of the best preserved in England.

Canyons overlook the Medway

The impressive stone keep

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In an English Country Garden

It is well known the world over, that the Brits love their Gardens. The trend for the "English Country Garden" dates back to the 18th Century, and is maybe attributed to the famous landscape designer of the times Capability Brown.

Today, come Springtime, the drone of lawnmower engines, and the chink chink of shears and pruning tools is heard across the nation. The climate in the UK is perfect for growing an abundance of colourful flowers, ok, I know that is a nice way of saying it rains often. 

Hidcote NT Gardens, Cotswolds

Greyfriars' House & Garden, Worcester

The National Trust does an outstanding job of preserving magnificent buildings, stunning gardens, and awe inspiring landscapes. The Trust was formed in 1895, and its moto "for ever, for everyone" sums up their work perfectly.

The jewel in the crown for the Trust has to be Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, it is one of the NT's most visited properties. The house was owned by the Rothschild family, and was built between 1874 and 1889, gifted to the National Trust in 1993. The house was built in the style of a French Chateau, rather than an English Country Manor, and the interior is just as lavish and extravagant as any Chateau found in France.

Waddesdon Manor - rear of the house and gardens

Waddesdon Manor - rear wing

Waddesdon Manor - Gardens

Waddesdon Manor - the Aviary

Monday, July 11, 2016

Longmont Crit July 10, 2016

2016 marked the 30th Annual Longmont Criterium. Below are a selection of images from the SW Pro 1-2, and the SM Pro 1-2.

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


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.