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Posts from the ‘England’ Category

Resting place of an iconic Kiwi

Sir Peter Blake was an inspirational New Zealander. A famous yachtsman and ocean explorer for environmental causes, he was murdered by pirates in Brazil in 2001 at the age of 53.

He was buried near the village of Emsworth on England’s south coast, where he had lived with his family.

We made a point of visiting his grave because we were roughly in that part of the world, and because we met him once in the 1980s during his Round the World race campaigns.

The churchyard took a bit of finding but we got there!

At Sir Peter Blake’s grave in Warblington churchyard

We arrived the same time as another couple from NZ

Visiting kiwis leave coins on top of the headstone

Mum left the little kiwi and a pair of new red socks next to a faded pair that had been there for a while. Red socks were a good luck symbol for Peter Blake

Chesapeake Mill – a not so hidden gem in Wickham

Just a quickie (of sorts) to mention this place as it was one of the local highlights near where we stayed.

Before leaving for our day-trip-to-Southampton-that-wasn’t, we met at the Chesapeake Mill in Wickham. A striking brick building, this former watermill, which produced flour, is today a homewares shop and cafe.

Still retaining much of its original character, the big old mill is hard to miss

It has so much stuff in it, new and antiques, though we didn’t have nearly enough time to poke around properly. Probably just as well; I was quickly running out of nooks and crannies in my bag in which to stuff things.

While the mill was plenty interesting already, another reason for visiting lies in our family history, the main theme of our trip.

The mill was built in 1820 using timber from the US frigate Chesapeake. During the War of 1812, the Chesapeake was captured by the Royal Navy, specifically the HMS Shannon on which one of my 4x great grandfathers served – and who was also part of the boarding party onto the Chesapeake.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise at the time, otherwise I would’ve taken photos!, but apparently blood stains and embedded bullets can still be seen in the timber inside the building.

The ship beams are a very cool feature but are probably easy to miss in amongst all the other stuff

Another great feature of the mill are the tea rooms, especially if you need a rest from too much (is there such a thing?) shopping.

Mmmmmm complimentary choccy treats

I wish we’d had more time to spend there but as was usually the case, there was other stuff to go see.

Why we never did make it to Southampton

One of our to-dos while in Hampshire was a visit to Southampton, which partly influenced our choice of accommodation. While the main family connection was with Portsmouth, Southampton also had some relevance and there were other general interest reasons for wanting to go. We would be there a few weeks after the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking.

A day trip was scheduled mid-week. Dad’s cousin Helen would come with us and we would detour to a family church on the way.

That was easier said than done. The church was in a rural parish that had been known as Farley Chamberlayne but it’s not on the map, nor just Farley, so the satnav programming required a bit of lateral thinking. Once we were in the depths of the countryside driving down Farley Lane we just had to keep going and hope we came across the church or a signpost.

We found it. After not knowing what to expect or if we’d even get there, it was good to find something substantial. Historic church, beautiful location.

St John’s Church at Farley Chamberlayne. For such an out of the way place there were two other lots of visitors including three on a photo shoot for a book

Me and dad with his first cousin Helen

The little Norman church is several hundred years and perhaps up to 1,000 years old. There was likely another church from Saxon times on the site before this. My ancestors attended this church from mid 1700s for about 100 years

The beam work is striking. We were told it was sourced from a ship

If doorways could talk… the notches were made by returning crusaders (circa 11th-13th centuries)

We hunted through the graveyard but if there are any family members buried there it was impossible to tell, the age and condition of the headstones making most names illegible

The church is at the end of a lane in the quiet countryside between Romsey and Winchester

Not a bad location eh?

Me and a new friend

A view from out the front of the church. All was serene, though not for long…

Our respective wanderings moved to various parts outside the church grounds and it wouldn’t be long before we’d be leaving and off to Southampton.

Suddenly I heard a small commotion and saw the photo shoot ladies run toward the neighbouring house. Not sure what was going on, I hurried over – to find Helen sprawled on the ground.

She had tripped or twisted her ankle on the uneven surface and fell quite hard. I didn’t hear it but others did: apparently there was a loud crack as she went down and she was convinced that her ankle was broken.

Everyone was in agreement that she shouldn’t be moved so we made her as comfortable as was possible and I got on the phone to emergency services.

While the photo shoot ladies protected Helen from the sun by holding up a large reflector!, I called for an ambulance and hoped my vague location description made sense

Given the remoteness, I drove down the road so that I could direct the ambulance when it arrived. I waited half an hour or so at a crossroads not far from the church

Having skilfully pointed the ambulance in the direction of the church (waste of time as it turned out, one of the ambos knew the area well), I returned to supervise proceedings as they assessed Helen and got her comfortable

Helen was to be taken to the hospital in Winchester and so there was nothing else for it but to abandon our Southampton plans and follow. Mum accompanied her in the ambulance, dad and I going ahead in the car. We’d fill in time and mum would keep us posted with proceedings at the hospital.

Winchester wasn’t in our plans and I didn’t know much about it. But turns out there were some landmarks of interest and so I began to look at our change of plans positively.

However, after we found some lunch and took some up to mum, Helen was almost ready to leave. The doctor didn’t think she had broken her ankle and so she was discharged, albeit still very sore. We left without really seeing anything of Winchester and returned back to the Portsmouth area.

So that was that. The church had stopped the day from being a complete loss and well, it gave me a sort of medical emergency to write about. I’ll have to catch up with Southampton next time I’m in the south of England, whenever that should be!

Other stuff around Portsmouth: Spinnaker Tower heebie jeebies

After our jaunt around Southsea we went downtown to Gunwharf Quay. Now a big shopping mall with viewing tower, the gunwharf began life in the 1660s and was where guns were fitted into the warships built at the adjacent dockyard. After more than 300 years service to the military it was flagged for disposal.

We were here to meet dad’s cousin and go up the Spinnaker Tower for some views over Portsmouth. It was another beautiful day so it was going to be a bit more successful than when Mike and I went to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Designed and named for the Portsmouth’s maritime heritage, the tower opened in 2005 and I think is a great asset for the city.

The Spinnaker Tower during our dockyard boat tour the day before

The first viewing deck with that quintessential masochistic observation tower experience: the glass floor. Solid and perfectly safe, they say, come walk on it. I don’t think so

So this is about as ‘brave’ as I get – and this was enough to give me surging pangs of anxiety in my legs

Looking down to the dockyard

Ferries run continually between the Isle of Wight, France and Spain

I mistimed seeing a hovercraft at close quarters earlier in the day, though one did zoom in while I had a grandstand view

There was a cafe and I liberated a cupcake from its fancy counter display (setting it free into my tummy)

I finished studying the views and headed back down. There were shops, many shops, and it would be rude to leave without getting better acquainted with them.

Other stuff around Portsmouth: Southsea

The day after we went to the Royal Marines Museum we returned to Southsea as there were other things that we (or I at least) wanted to go back and see…

Dad and I visited the D-Day Museum

A couple of tanks are displayed on the roadside out front – quite the head turner as you drive past

First some lunch in the cafe before mum left us to it

Flags outside the museum

The old defences blend in with seaside life today

A waterfront walkway is one of the best assets a city can have I reckon

Sea wall. Not sure if the many rows of steel ‘rungs’ were used back in the day to assist transiting between water and land, or perhaps they’re just reinforcing

One of four sea forts built in the Solent, the strait between the English mainland and the Isle of Wight. They were never used for their designed purpose. Three are now owned by a company which is developing two as luxury accommodation and one a museum

A seaside rotunda

Southsea Castle is a fortress built in the 1500s cos King Henry VIII wanted it

The castle’s dry moat

The lighthouse is a relatively recent addition

Southsea Beach, a pebbly affair, with the pier in the background

The South Parade Pier, still going strong despite three big fires over the years. It became a er ‘pleasure pier’ (as the website calls it) in the early 1900s

Further along beside Clarence Pier is this plaque and also the depot for the Isle of Wight hovercraft, though naturally none obliged to hover in onto the beach while I stood around

Swans on Canoe Lake, real ones and your classic pedal boat variety

I do love a good line up of changing sheds

We visited the Royal Marines Museum the day before but this time the Yomper was wearing a flag. Love this statue

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (& more ships than you can shake a stick at)

After finishing up at the Royal Marines Museum we made a beeline for the Historic Dockyard, located on the large Portsmouth naval base.

The dockyard is a big deal in these parts and is regarded as the home of the Royal Navy. We weren’t going to be able to see and do everything but we had a shortlist of priorities. Three of the most famous warships in history are now safely tucked up here, and we were especially keen to visit one that had been discovered to have a link with my great grandfather.

So for me the afternoon had two main highlights.

1. Harbour tour

This was excellent, not too long and plenty to see. Sitting on the outside deck we were taken alongside the dockyard and base to see many of the ships berthed there. Quite a number seemed to be either out of service or not far from it and the captain’s commentary rued the gradually diminishing naval fleet.

A collection of anchors, the HMS Warrior and the Spinnaker Tower as seen when heading down to join the queue for the harbour tour

An impressive line-up of big grey boats – and there was plenty more to come

Mum and dad enjoying the jaunt around the harbour

New aircraft carrier hull on a barge ready to leave Portsmouth

Within a day or so of our visit this enormous section of ship, part of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, left Portsmouth for Scotland where it will be assembled.

The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, due to be retired in a couple of years

The HMS Bristol and some of her crew

2. Tour of the HMS Victory

The Victory is a bit of an old girl, having been commissioned in the 1770s. She had a long life before arriving in the dockyard in the 1920s. Of particular interest to us, my great grandfather’s time in the Royal Marines included a stint aboard the Victory. That she has been restored and opened to the public is fantastic. The ship is in dry dock and was undergoing some outer restoration at the time of our visit.

HMS Victory

Just a tad fancier than navy ships these days

Me and dad

I wondered what these are… they are fire buckets, which makes sense on a big wooden boat. I think they’d make pretty good ice buckets too!

A place for naughty sailors… and fathers

Good view down to another of the dry docks where a smaller ship is also undergoing restoration. This is M33 which amazingly was involved in the Gallipoli campaign and is one of only two British warships still around which date back to WW1

Mum and I looked through all eight decks – there didn’t seem to be enough space for a full crew of over 800 men. Maybe they were quite small

Big rope pile on one of the decks – having once worked for a rope manufacturer I feel expertly qualified to provide profound captions on such matters

There’s plenty more going on at the dockyard though we limited further explorations to general walking around and shop browsing. Plus a visit to the museum of the very very historic Mary Rose, but for me this was less interesting.

Dockyard buildings

A fair treasure trove of caps at one of the dockyard gift shops. I did contemplate the white captain’s hat for Mike, as they’ve been a source of amusement since we first saw them in Venice, but unluckily for him it was a bit too expensive

Victory Gate, the main entry into the dockyard

While mum and dad finished their wandering I waited outside the main gate where there were more views of the third famous ship, the HMS Warrior. We forewent a tour due to our time constraints but she was certainly majestic to look at from afar.

And that was that. I’d definitely go back to the dockyard if I ever return to Portsmouth.

A family connection with the Royal Marines Museum

My great grandfather was a Royal Marine. I only learned of this on the trip and have to say I did a double take. I am proud that my father is an ex-serviceman and I may well have joined the army myself if not for my asthma. So to learn that there is another family association with the defence forces was a great surprise.

Frederick Grace, my dad’s dad’s dad, was based at the Royal Marines Barracks at Eastney in Portsmouth.

With the way of the world and the inevitable rationalisation of military installations, this site no longer serves its original purpose. But it does house the Royal Marines Museum which we visited.

It’s an interesting drive along the coastal road to get there, a few miles away from downtown Portsmouth. About half way there you also find the D-Day Museum which we saved for another day.

If you turn off the coastal road you go around the back where the original entry to the barracks was.

But coming in from the Esplanade to the museum entry you get an impression of the impressively large grounds where much of the original site seems to remain. The accommodation buildings have been converted into private dwellings and the museum is located in the officers’ mess.

As you’d expect, there are several outdoor exhibits but the most time was spent inside the museum (where photos weren’t allowed). I found the old film clips especially interesting.

I really enjoyed this visit. We finished off with lunch in the Quartermaster’s Kitchen cafe and then had to get cracking – the Historic Dockyards beckoned.

A hurried snap out the car window… this was the main gate to Eastney Barracks

The Eastney Barracks in 1902 (photo of a photo)

This chap stands at the museum entry

Across the road is Southsea Beach and the English Channel

Royal Marine Corps colours

The old Eastney Barracks and grounds

The museum is located in the old officers’ mess

Me, dad and cannon

The barracks have been converted to private apartments

Parade ground in front of the museum and the old barracks

A first peek at Portsmouth

Day one in Hampshire was a low key affair and after a lazy morning we had a fairly leisurely expedition into Portsmouth.

As mentioned, dad’s dad came from Portsmouth hence our reason for loitering in the area. Dad still has a few cousins in England, several of whom he hadn’t met, but the one he knows best lives locally. We picked Helen up from her place and ventured out for a late lunch.

Sunday roast for lunch (when in Rome and all that) at a pub in the Bere Forest area on our way in to Portsmouth

It was a slightly hurried affair. A gypsy fair was being staged in nearby Wickham the following day with many of them arriving that day, which prompted police to advise local establishments to close mid-afternoon on account of the trouble that may otherwise arise. That teensy observation of how cultures adapt to each other was quite interesting.

We drove on to Portsmouth, specifically the original historic part of the city known as … Old Portsmouth. (Can you see what they did there?) We parked and wandered along the waterfront.

A series of memorials for things such as the Falklands conflict and an expedition that circumnavigated our dear neighbour Australia

The Round Tower, part of Portsmouth’s first permanent defences, flanked by what was the Eighteen Gun Battery

Inside the Round Tower – me with dad and his cousin

Great walkway along the old wall defences

The lay of the land in this part of the world is a bit confusing without the context of a map, on account of the higgledy piggledy coastline and numerous waterways. A good chunk of Portsmouth is actually on an island (Portsea) and other islands take up quite a bit of the harbour. The harbour entry is quite narrow and what you assume is another part of Portsmouth across the water actually isn’t. The Isle of Wight is a short ferry ride away, though we wouldn’t be going there on this trip.

A border agency boat enters Portsmouth Harbour past part of the old naval facilities in Gosport

Old Portsmouth Beach

So far I was liking this city. Waterside location, lots of old bits, especially defences and fortifications, and some grey boats.

Peeking through Old Portsmouth to a moored naval boat

At Spice Island, one end of Old Portsmouth

After pausing in the Spice Island Inn for a fortifying red bull for me, cup of tea for the grown-ups, and warm chocolate brownie, we walked inland 15 minutes or so to where dad’s dad’s family had lived. Mum had been here before so kinda knew where we were going.

A thingy on the Portsmouth Cathedral which our route took us past

What you can do with those cannon barrels you no longer need

Street where dad’s dad lived when he left on his own for NZ as a teenager

The house was where the dark brown brick dwelling is now

A shame that the original house is no longer there but it was great to see the location all the same, and its proximity to the old city. There would be more family places of interest during the week, things that for me were worth the entire trip.

Walking back to the waterfront, we made one more stop in another area. We’d only been in Portsmouth five minutes but it was obvious and surprising how extensive the coastal defences were that once served the city. I saw church ruins nearby and like a magpie distracted by something shiny, I immediately detoured.

The Royal Garrison Church dates back to the 1200s and if not for a fire raid on the city in 1941, it may have been a bit more intact today

A good first day and I was looking forward to coming back tomorrow. Between the Royal Marines Museum and the Historic Dockyard it was going to be a busy one.

Swallows and horses: our cottage in Hampshire

So we arrived in Hampshire, looking forward to staying put for a few days. The ol’ bag heaving routine does get a bit wearisome after a while, especially as we had managed to stay in places where bags had to be heaved up and down stairs.

Our accommodation was self catering, but after such a full day a pub dinner was the way to go.

Though the high pitched high volume voices from the tottering heeled young females near our table was almost too much to bear!

Hampshire was part of our trip because that’s where dad’s dad came from. Portsmouth was the main interest here, but Southampton also featured, and so mum suggested we stay in easy reach of both. Accordingly we chose a cottage in the rather obscure location of Durley village.

Swallow Cottage on Snakemoor Farm was a lovely, quiet place where the three of us had all the space we needed.

Our home for a week

I was a bit lax in considering wifi access – not sure why, I don’t think I was ditzy enough to assume that it would be generally accessible. So that was a downer but the only one really.

(And I was able to buy some access online and if I sat in the car at the end of the driveway, could get 1-2 bars.)

Not called Swallow Cottage for nothing…

We had lovely neighbours too.

Stables were spitting distance away

It was a busy place with horsey comings and goings. The clip clopping of hooves was a fairly regular soundtrack as our neighbours were led past and out to the paddocks.

Meet Crunchie…

…and Sandy

We began our stay with a bit of a day off but the rest of the week was busy and I’ll cover some of that in the posts to follow.

End of the week and back into that pack-up-and-leave routine. Look at that weather!

Neolithic monuments, river locks & other things on the way to Hampshire

From Amesbury we were destined for Hampshire and there was plenty to distract on the way. I’ve already blah’d on about our visits to Stonehenge and the Chalk Kiwi. In between these we made a short stop at another henge, not far from the big stone one.


This had been a predominantly timber henge (so the name shouldn’t be a surprise) and it was also a burial site. The wooden posts eventually rotted but archaeologists estimate the height above ground was up to several metres. Today the posts are in the original spaces but are short concrete representations. Used-To-Be-Wood Henge just doesn’t have the same ring.

Dad by the central burial spot


Though our final destination was south, from Bulford we actually went north. It wasn’t yet lunchtime so there was loads more time to play tourist. One main stop was planned but unexpected features appeared along the way that helped make it one of the most interesting days of the trip.

Not far from Woodhenge we passed through a village with a few closed buildings, which had a whiff of military about them

Near a village called Alton Barnes a distinctive white thing appeared on a hillside. This was my first encounter with a chalk horse. Thanks to the kiwi earlier in the day, this wasn’t my first ‘landscape figure’, and turns out England has around 50 of them. This horse was created in 1812, seemingly at the whim of the landowner. As with the others in the area, it was covered up during the Second World War and had to be re-cut later.

The Alton Barnes White Horse

I could well have driven past this hill none the wiser, but mum remembered it from her previous travels. Mind you it doesn’t exactly look natural does it.

Silbury Hill: apparently it would’ve only taken 18 million man-hours or so to create

It’s been there a while, since around 2000 BC, and carries the title of ‘largest prehistoric mound in Europe’. There are theories about its reason for being but no one is exactly sure.

Not far from there, I think I uttered a squeal-like noise as saw a row of large rocks. We simply had to veer off to the side to investigate. Well mum and I had to at least; think dad would’ve been quite content with observing from the car while driving past.

This turned out to be one of two known avenues, marked out by pairs of stones, leading to an even more impessive place down the road a bit further. Very few of the stones now remain but you get a good impression here of what it would have been like. Back in the day it probably consisted of 100 pairs of stones and continued for about 2.5km.

West Kennet Avenue

Everywhere you turn, a neolithic monument lurks nearby

And so we continued the short distance to the main activity of the afternoon. The village of Avebury is home to what’s left of the largest stone circle in the British Isles. Worth a look, I thought.

Initially we were a bit peeved to pay the £5 or so for parking. However, it soon transpired that there was no further entry fee, for the stone circle at least. Having been to a few English Heritage sites by this time, I’m sure if there was a way they could’ve controlled access and hence charged for it, they would have.

The bulging carpark was sign enough how popular a destination this is. We walked to the village and queued (and queued) in the main visitor complex for some much needed lunch.

Pleasant stroll from carpark to village

Avebury village

Once tummies were happy, it was time to go see what this place was really about. And it was soon apparent that even though there has been a lot of succumbing to the elements over the last 4000-odd years, the scale of this site is quite amazing.

Part of the roughly mile-long circular bank. It would have been a very imposing structure when you consider the ditch is only around half its original depth

The great Outer Circle marked the edge of the island inside the huge ditch and consisted of about 100 stones. There were also two inner circles of maybe 30 stones each. There’s nowhere near that number now. Obviously dozens of big rocks just don’t get up and wander off and it seems that a few centuries ago, many of the stones were broken up for use in building projects locally.

We followed the path around the outside of the ditch which took a while to complete. Especially when dithering with cameras.

Left to right: Me, Stone. Apparently the straighter stones are male and the more diamond like ones are female. Think this was a boy rock

The creators may not have had this particular function in mind, but the stones do double as great scratching posts

Having completed the circuit, we went back into the village to have a quick look for souvenirs where I did find myself getting a bit sidetracked. All well and good, but I was mindful of my expanding collection of stuff that I would eventually have to reconcile into my bag space. But that was another day’s problem and we had to get going.

Near the town of Devizes we detoured to have a look at the locks on a section of the Kennet and Avon Canal. Quite impressive as the waterway has to climb a hill, rising well over 200 feet over a couple of miles.

Caen Hill Locks… waiting… waiting…

This requires a system of 29 locks. If you’ve seen a boat transit through just one lock on a canal, you’ll have an idea of how long it would take to get through 29!

…a-ha! customers…

We watched as they went through one lock. It takes 5-6 hours to get through the whole system. Wouldn’t wanna be in a hurry!

After one final distraction I concentrated on completing the journey to our home for the next week.

A common sight through the Salisbury Plains

Unfortunately though there were no tanks to oblige us.

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