Wednesday, 13 November 2013

More On That Secret Nuclear Bunker


Further to this post, I realised the other day that I'd missed out a critical part of the story that first got me interested in this sort of Cold War history.  

As you can see from this brief story, a local historian has managed to get hold of a set of maps put together by the Russians during the cold war, showing an extraordinary level of detail of the country and Nottingham in particular.  

The exhibition mentioned in the article was excellent, albeit criminally under-publicised and there was a little card suggesting that the maps could be bought from Mr Grimes along with his email address.  Being a nerd and a maps nerd at that, I of course sent of a criminally small amount of money and get back a CD of the maps in return.  

There is a reference to a couple of articles by John Davies called, "Uncle Joe Knew Where You Lived" and Part II here which give a wealth of fascinating detail of how the maps were compiled.  

The four Nottingham maps on the CD are at 1:10,000 resolution - ie incredibly detailed: the usual map that you might use for a walk in the countryside is 1:25,000.  The bits that I found most strange when browsing through the maps is the phonetic rendering of English places names into their Cyrillic equivalents.  

I'm hoping that I'm not in massive breach of the intellectual property that exists in the maps if I post some little extracts.  If I am then please get in touch and I'll take the images down immediately.  


This is The Park Estate and the eastern side of city centre
To bring us back to the original secret nuclear bunker post, this is the Russians' view of our regional command centre;


Note the special pink colour for military installation
A couple of things worth noting - the orange colour of some roads wasn't by chance - this was to designate which roads were wide enough to accommodate the width of the tanks that the Russians were planning to invade the UK with.  Is it just me for whom this creates a terrifying image of military hardware rolling down the ring road?  

Secondly, bearing in mind these maps, according to the "Uncle Joe..." series as linked above, were based on independent research rather than cribbing from existing maps, compare the maps of the Broxtowe and Aspley estates above and on the modern Google Maps.  



If anyone is interested in getting hold of a copy of the maps then please do let me know either through a comment below or via direct message on my twitter and I'll put you in touch with Mr Grimes.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

Review: Richard III, Nottingham Playhouse


(Setting aside the current political controversy over the proposed removal of the subsidy to The Playhouse by the County Council, of which I am going to diplomatically stay reasonably neutral - see a couple of opposing views: here and here).  


This is a slightly delayed blog (life has intervened) but I hoping that people who read it are able to get along before the run ends and support local live theatre (if that's important to you) in the most direct way possible - by buying a ticket.  


On that note, the house when I was there was perhaps two thirds full - yes it was one of the (incredibly good value) preview nights and a wet-ish Monday night but even so, Nottingham, where's your civic pride in a chance to get one over on Leicester...?

Although I was slightly more prepared than when I was scribbling notes on the back of my ticket for the acclaimed 1984, I still only have a few bits sketched out - so will restrain myself to a trio of observations.  

Modern Dress and Elizabethan Language

Despite discovering that H16 is the best possible seat for anyone my height (6'4") - the seat infront is offset so you're free to stretch out as much as you like and therefore being relaxed and in full anticipation of a good night's entertainment my heart sanked into my (well extended) boots the moment the curtain went up.  The cast were assembled in modern dress.  Modern dress I tell you.  I hate nothing more from a staging of Shakespeare.  Stop trying to convince people that it's all "relevant" and "contemporary" and in touch with our modern lives through dressing people in jeans and modern suits.  It's a 400 year old piece of drama about Elizabethan concerns and Elizabethan opportunities.  Stop trying to pretend it's anything else.  Stop it.  

As if to prove my point, the costume incongruity was forgotten within about two minutes with a brilliant rendering of the opening soliloquy by Ian Bartholomew;
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,To set my brother Clarence and the kingIn deadly hate the one against the other:And if King Edward be as true and justAs I am subtle, false and treacherous,This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,About a prophecy, which says that 'G'Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: hereClarence comes.
(Act I, Scene i.  Text from here

The key couplet showing Gloucester's malevolence was perfectly delivered with the pause between "As I am" and "subtle" lulling the audience into a brilliant moment of realisation.  When you've got language and delivery as world-class as that, don't go and spoil it with a cocktail dress, eh.  

My second favourite moment in the early part of the play came about fifteen minutes later when Gloucester shows his true colours with great piece of Shakespearean irony;
I do not know that Englishman aliveWith whom my soul is any jot at oddsMore than the infant that is born to-nightI thank my God for my humility.
(Act II, Scene i.  Text from here) 

The entire auditorium was silent during al the key moments - I suspect a combination of good textual knowledge and the excellent pacing and pointing up of the peaks of the action.  

Live Action

In keeping with a very traditional interpretation of the live theatre of the time, the action in various parts of the production moved to be in the audience and also used the full extent of the Playhouse's auditorium.  

Therefore at one point during the sham pleading for Gloucester to make a claim for the throne his cronies were standing right next to me in the aisle of the auditorium and calling up to Richard who was in the Circle.  This truly broke down the fourth-wall and made for a very engaging performance.  

Presentation

Finally, I just want to commend the artistic direction when the action was back on the main stage.  

The trompe l'oeil effect of the stage with the various settings receding off into the distance was very smart - giving a good sense of place and space whilst maximising the playing area.  When combined with the lighting from in front giving a projection of Richard's hunchback and making him seem very fearsome this was a very powerful look.  

I also really enjoyed Act V, Scene v - the night before the battle where the rival leaders are shown in the stage version of a "split screen" - the same tent but divided into two with a tormented Richard stage right and his rival peacefully slumbering stage right.  A very clever piece of stagework, well executed with some technical challenges in the erection and dismantling of the tent well navigated.  

Overall

The production misses some of the polish that I might expect from a professional production with a couple of prompts needed (albeit very well coped with) and a few stumbles (literally in one case - Charles Daish injured himself on the night I was there and has been performing on crutches ever since!) in the flow of the action.  But overall was a strong performance of a topical play well worth a visit.  It closes on 16th November.  

Friday, 8 November 2013

One Year Ago - Washington, DC

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was reflecting on the end of my trip and enjoying the sights of DC.  

Thursday, 7 November 2013

One Year Ago - Election Day

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was hungover and celebrating a good election results for the Democrats.  

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

One Year Ago - Bentonville

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was falling under the spell of small-town America in Bentonville, Arkansas.  

Friday, 25 October 2013

Secret Nuclear Bunker

Image courtesy of: http://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/how-anarchists-exposed-secret-nuclear-bunkers.html
A friend sent me a link to this planning application which is for the Secret Nuclear Bunker in the Chalfont Drive complex off the Ring Road in Nottingham.  Most Nottingham people have driven past the turning for it a hundred times but very few will have been inside.  I certainly haven't but would love to one day!

The bunker is here;



View Larger Map
View Larger Map

If you zoom in on that map you start to see the uniform shape of a planned development.  Most people who took their driving test in Nottingham until a few years ago probably started off from this location.  I say until a few years ago because the site is slow being cleared for housing and other use and the various government departments that used to be there are slowly dispersing. The varied and interesting government uses means that there are lots of interesting things to be seen in this area - all of which appeal to my inner geek.  

(One of these things, and not really the focus of this blog is the presence of an Ordnance Survey Trig Point.  The specific point now seems to have been removed but there are some old shots on that second link.)

The main exciting thing at the Chalfont Drive (which is also the home of HMS Sherwood which as the Navy acknowledges, is a bold location for a naval facility...) is the Nuclear Bunker.  The site has received a fair amount of attention over the years and is well documented here.  

Correctly a 'Regional Seat of Government' this is one of a chain of facilities that existed throughout the country up until the early 1990s to be used in event of a nuclear war.  The planning application is pretty prosaic, changing the external doors to make sure that they are still secure, but the main interesting thing is the Heritage Statement.  This is required because the building is Listed - as you can see here.  The Listing statement is excellent, some choice extracts;
In the late 1950s, with the greater threat posed by the Soviet H-bomb, the earlier system of emergency central government was restructured. In place of the smaller War Rooms, the Commissioners in each Region (London was now deleted) were supplied with a Regional Seat of Government for around 200 staff. Their larger size is significant as it was envisaged that the regions would need to remain autonomous for a longer period due to the far greater devastation posed by the H-bomb.  
and
The Cambridge and Nottingham RSGs comprise the only purpose-built examples and, moreover, the most impressive examples of Cold War 'architecture' (by which we mean monumental structures which have applied and conscious external treatment) in England, augmented by the example at Kirknewton in Scotland which is essentially identical to the Cambridge bunker. These features borrow from contemporary Brutalist architecture in order to clearly exhibit their grim function through their architectural treatment.
and
It is probable, indeed, that such buildings needed to be visually impressive and forbidding - which they undoubtedly were - as much to impress visiting government ministers or local leaders and dignitaries, as for truly functional reasons. As the Cold War was essentially an era of bluff and counter-bluff, the illusion of being well prepared for nuclear strike might have been considered as important as the actual preparations themselves. The same could be said for impressing our allies and the local population, fulfilling a need to show that there were preparations in hand should the unthinkable happen
The Heritage Statement as linked above also has some great details including the final photograph of the steel door - imagine if this was your final view before entering into the bunker for an indeterminate time as the nuclear winter raged away above you.  

Friday, 18 October 2013

One Year Ago - Palo Alto

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was enjoying the hospitality and weird atmosphere of Silicon Valley

Saturday, 12 October 2013

One Year Ago - Amtrak

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was on my first (but definitely not last) Amtrak train journey.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

One Year Ago - Obama

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was campaigning for President Obama's re-election.  

Saturday, 5 October 2013

One Year Ago - Chicago

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was falling in love with Chicago.  

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

One Year Ago - Detroit

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was in Detroit, hearing about a City teetering on the brink of municipal bankruptcy.  

Thursday, 26 September 2013

One Year Ago - Cincinnati

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was enjoying the contrasting stories of Cincinnati (behold my spelling skills still holding up!).  

Friday, 20 September 2013

Review: 1984, Nottingham Playhouse


One of my New Year's Resolutions was to attend the theatre more so I was excited to see that as part of their 50th Anniversary season, Nottingham Playhouse were putting on a production of Orwell's Nineteen Eight-Four.  A long time fan (not to say obsessive) of Orwell (one of the many reasons for my visit to Jura earlier this year) and lover of the book I was one of the first to buy my ticket when they went on sale.  

I went on one of the 'preview' nights, mainly because the tickets are much cheaper (eleven quid for an evening of live entertainment in the city centre - what a deal!) and was pleased to see that the place was pretty much a sell-out.  

As you can see from my breathless tweets immediately afterwards, I was some what impressed - this was one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in a long time.  It is a stylistically triumphant, sensitively adapted and compelling piece of theatre that has made me re-assess one of my favourite books.  I urge you to buy some tickets now before they sell out.  

It's worth noting that the play is run in one complete chunk - no interval so you're in your seat for over an hour and a half without a break.  This was definitely the right artistic decision and it's a tribute to the quality of the performances that at no point did I feel the need to sneak out for a break.  

I'm not going to do a detailed run through of the production as I would like you to discover it for yourself but I've got just a few observations I'd like to share.  This is a little bit limited by the fact that I only started to scribble down some thoughts part way through the production and was hampered by the lack of light and something to write on - so this is based on what I could scrawl on the back of my ticket!  Note also that the below assumes that you are familiar with the original story.  If you're not then go out and read it!

Plotting.  This was always going to be a challenge for the team writing the adaptation as Orwell's original text really wasn't that strong on plot - the awkward interpolation of Goldstein's Book and the appending of the essay on NewSpeak were obviously tack-ons from a writer desperate to get all his ideas out and into what turned out to be his last book before his untimely death.  Bernard Crick's biography of Orwell reveals some interesting details of how Orwell had to resist attempts from his American publisher to remove these sections.  What you have in the original is a fairly limply plotted story - but then fundamentally it's a novel of ideas rather than action.  This theatrical production neatly sidesteps these challenges by throwing you directly into things, in media res, using the conceit of a book group from the future, discussing not the novel but Winston Smith's diary which in this future world has been rescued and published.  This creation of a new world as a bubble around the world that Orwell creates is a very neat addition.  The fact that the actor playing Winston slips in and out of these two worlds only further adds to his (and our) dislocation and sense of disorientation.  

Language.  This is the key way that disorientation is achieved in the book - we have to work hard to understand what's going on with the use of NewSpeak throughout and this difficulty not only generates meaning but also creates a sense of distance that makes it clear that this is a different world - not one that far away from where we are now but definitely different.  In a live performance like a film or play this is a hard technique to replicate - the audience doesn't have time to learn a whole language or to flick back and forth to remind themselves what a particular word means so a lot of the NewSpeak is removed from this production.  However, the effect of confusion and distancing is an important one to have in place and this production amply achieves this by the  switching back and forth between the "present' (1984) and the future (some time around 2050) with the Winston character being something of both a participant and bemused observer in both.  (This issue around managing the use of language was, of course, a similar problem to that faced by Kubrick in his adaptation of A Clockwork Orange for the screen - one that he neatly and cinematically managed by using the speeding up of images and the booming classical music soundtrack to achieve a similar end, especially in the more extreme scenes of sex and violence).  As a final point on language, I was intrigued that one of the key passages in the book, Winston's fervent belief that, "If there is hope it lies in the proles" was not present in this production.  There was a number of times when I was expecting it to be used but then the script shied away - a curious decision.  

Design.  Here the production really triumphed.  The setting for the first half of the play is a claustrophobic multipurpose space that variously represents: Winston's front room, the canteen at the Ministry of Truth, the future book group, O'Brien's apartment and Charrington's shop.  Again, this constant switching between different locations and repetition of some scenes several times helps create the sense of confusion, paranoia and control that Orwell wanted in his original text.  Two moments of transformation however take this a step beyond and elevated the whole production to a frankly astonishing level of quality.  The first is when Winston first goes with Julia to the back room of Charrington's shop.  They disappear off stage left and after a momentary pause the action in the room off-stage is projected through a video link onto a screen on the top of the main performing stage.  You are at this point watching a live production of an adaptation of a novel with the actors off stage being videoed and broadcast live on a screen on-stage.  A tour-de-force in conception and execution.  Of course, this all talks very clearly to the omni-presence of Big Brother and the hidden telescreen in the back room that ultimately leads to the betrayal of Winston and Julia - the audience is encouraged to ask, "are we watching through the telescreen alongside the Thought Police?".  The second moment of design is one that borders on theatrical genius and leads on directly from this train of thought.  At the moment that Winston realises that he has been betrayed or otherwise discovered (incidentally, I love the fact that this is left ambiguous in the book) the stage erupts into a cacophony of noise and light.  The claustrophobic setting we have become used to for the first half of the play is transformed in what feels like only a few moments into a stark white cube - welcome to Room 101.  Sirens blare and the lights go bright white and the walls of the stage move off into the wings.  Bit by bit the stage is dismantled and carted away, leaving Julia in the shell of the back room, vulnerable and alone and with the Thought Police moving closer and closer.  The addition of a V-For-Vendetta style mask to the uniform of the Thought Police is a smart little nod to the current political protest culture.  After what feels like a moment but is certainly much longer you are exited out of one of the most absorbing moments in live theatre I've ever seen into the relative calm of an interrogation room in the Ministry of Love.  You can imagine the rest...

Exhausting, exhilarating and edifying this is a not-to-be-missed treat - the play is only on until 28th September so move fast to get to see it before it's too late.  

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

One Year Ago - New York

Seeing as it's a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was just leaving New York after a brisk 48 hour visit and ready to start on the rest of my adventure!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Further House Research


Follow on from this post, I've found some time to do more research on the previous owners and occupiers of my house.

I've done a couple of sessions of research at both the Local Studies Library at Nottingham's Central Library and the Nottinghamshire Archives. I should pay tribute at this stage to the staff at both these institutions - they've been very patient with my odd demands and seemed to take a genuine interest in what I was trying to research.  

From the last update you'll see that I was only able to examine the Electoral Register from 1932 onwards at the Central Library - for a variety of reasons including damage during World War Two, the City's records are incomplete. Bizarrely therefore I had to go to the County Council Archives (which is located in the City boundaries) to examine the City's Electoral Register records. (Given the records are all on Microfiche I'm not sure why they can't simply be given a copy but there we go).

The set-up at the Archives is great - useful opening hours including Saturday morning and very helpful staff. Many of the records in wanted were in open access but I believe you have to request some things from the "stacks" which are delivered on a timetable throughout the day.

I previously knew from the earliest records in the Library that from the early 1930s my house was occupied by the Bonnallo family.  From the records at the Archives I was able to track this backwards to when the house was built.  

The house first appears in the register for 1912 - confirming once and for all that the house is Edwardian rather than Victorian.  Of course the architectural styles are naturally somewhat fluid but it's good to have clarity on the date at least.  Interestingly, this is ten years or so before the covenants that appear in my deeds that set me off on this research in the first place.  

The first resident listed in the Register is Raynor Thomas.  (The microfiches from this time period are very poor or I'd show an image of it).  Looks like Mr Thomas lived there until around 1920 when James William Board moved in.  

1920 Electoral Register
He was joined by his wife in 1924;

1924 Register
And then in 1925 we find our old friends the Bonnallos in residence.  

The Bonallos arrive in 1925
Their son, Leonard, comes of age in 1926 meaning that he'd be 105 years old now, potentially his descendants still live in Nottingham.  

How different would being 18 be in 1926?
As we know from my previous work, this family lived in my house until well into the 1970s, followed by a series of shorter term residents.  

Look clear enough, doesn't it....?

But prior to this visit I'd done some work back in Central Library using their collection of Street Directories.  These are a kind of precursor to the Yellow Pages / Thomson Local (as an aside, is anyone else still mildly astonished when one of those books arrives through the letterbox at home? In my house it has an extraordinarily short existence before hitting the recycling box - it's almost as if the companies behind them haven't quite heard of the internet...) but included private residents too if they paid the subscription fee. You can see some digital examples here if you're interested.  

The Central Library has a good collection of these, albeit stored away from open access so you have to request the librarians to get them for you. They are very accommodating however and even procured me a special pillow to rest the volumes on to protect the original bindings.
The story that the Directories told was interesting but also contradictory to the Electoral Register - the plot thickens!

The records from the early 1920s broadly match - in 1922 Kelly's Directory has James William Board listed.  

Apologies for the poor quality - it's an illicit camera phone photo
And thereafter we have some interesting detail with the Bonnallo family appearing in yet another spelling variant of Brownallo in 1928;

Misprint, mistake or variable Anglicising of Italian name?
Thereafter we see Bonnallo in place as expected and the Directories tended to drift into obscurity shortly after.  

But it's what we see in the years before 1922 that's most interesting.  

In 1913/14 when the Register shows Raynor Thomas we have Mrs Clara Hodges in the Directory;

Note the neighbour's job
In 1916 when Raynor Thomas is still registered to vote, there is a Percy Lord (a "Grocers' Assistant" - love the implications of being an assistant to multiple grocers...) listed as trading from this address;

Apologies again for v poor quality image
And the records show that his wife (?) joined the family firm a few years later in 1920.  

So, we have one person registered to vote and a series of other people living and trading from the house.  I need to refresh my memory of the voting rules at this time - I think you could be registered if you owned a property but not actually live there and live there but own insufficient property to qualify to vote.  

The interesting thing of course is that the 1920 deeds show the guy selling on to James Board being a William Richmond so at that time you've got Raynor Thomas living there and registered to vote whilst the house is owned by someone else.  The deeds for the next door house show the same William Richmond selling the house at the same sort of time - looks like he owned a chunk of the whole street for 10 or so years after building them: renting them out until subsequently selling out.  There's also a character called James Bell mentioned in the deeds who is involved in some way too.  

All very confusing and lots of avenues to continue researching.  

Next time out I'm planning to explore;

- Getting to the bottom of the early years of the residents including looking at the voting rights at the time.  I want to know who the Lord family were in particular.  
- The collection of local plans and maps in the Archives - hopefully showing the construction of the houses up my street from the main road - I can imagine it winding slowly upwards and away and the city developed
- The will for the Mortgagee of my property (Mary Jackson) in the 1920s (as per my first post) to see if I can find out any more about her.  
- See if I can trace the Bonnallo descendants who might still be living in Nottingham.  

Monday, 9 September 2013

One Year Ago - Pre-Departure

Seeing as it's nearly a year ago since I went to America and given how jealous I am getting of this year's Nottingham Roosevelt Scholars, I thought I'd wallow in nostalgia for a bit and do a short series of re-posts from exactly a year ago - it's amazing how quickly the time goes isn't it!

About a year ago I was making my final preparations for departure and getting all maudlin about Nottingham.  

Please do follow this year's Scholars on their blogs and tweets - I'm sure they'll have as fascinating and rewarding time as I did

Rebecca Wilson is blogging here and tweeting here

Sacha Wise is blogging here and tweeting here

Ioney Smallhorne is blogging here and tweeting here

Francesca Pearson isn't up and running yet with her social media but I'll update this when she is.  

Sandeep Gill is tweeting here

Daniel Walsh is tweeting here

Best of luck to you all!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Nottingham City Boundaries

I was fascinated by this new article yesterday.  Apart from the total astonishment that Nottingham Tories have actually managed to up with a policy proposal, I was even more impressed that it's one that I can broadly support.

I think there are some tweaks to be done to the actual map proposed but anything that sorts out the frankly mad political boundaries of the city and conurbation has to be a good thing.  I droned on at length about this here so won't rehash it all but suffice to say, sign me up to the campaign!


Thursday, 5 September 2013

Out of Town Shopping

Fascinating article here which taught me some of Nottingham's retail history I didn't know. 

When I was in America, the impact of an almost wholesale move to out of town shopping was one of the things I really disliked - showing people I met photos of Sherwood high street or the pedestrianise city centre almost always elicited wistful sighs of longing...

And you can look closer to home at cities like Sheffield where the impact of Meadowhall has been to turn the city centre into a shadow of its former self. 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Walking on Jura: Corryvrecken

View out over the Northern tip of the island
Final post on the walks I did during my recent trip to Jura.  You can see all my Jura posts here.  There is a bit of dearth of info on the web on walks on Jura so aiming to make this a bit of a reference point for others - hoping it will be useful!

The best written guide I found is this one;



And of course you'll want the right OS map.  All set with this and assuming that you're based in Craighouse (the main settlement) you've got a great couple of days ahead of you.  

This walk is all about getting to see the famous Corryvrecken whirlpool.  Be warned, this is a real yomp of a day - 30km+ over nearly eight hours.  Not technical or difficult (you're just on the one road), just a long old day.  


The end of a long day!
For this walk you really do need to use the bus (NB, the bus service has been re-tendered - it's now run by Garelochhead Coaches not Alex Dunnachie as per the Argyll and Bute website - the link I give here is the right one!).  I caught the 0803 from Craighouse and got off at Ardlussa which is as far North as the bus goes (not not the end of the line - it then loops a bit back South to Inverlussa before turning around for the return trip).  The bus drivers are very friendly so will drop you off at the right place if you ask.  So you'll suddenly be in the middle of no-where at about 8.45am - brilliant!

The route is incredibly simple, just keep following the road in front of you through some farm buildings, it slowly works its way up through the island, progressively becoming a track then a rough path.  You'll pass a kind of pull-in car park on the right with a sign urging car drivers not to progress further.  If you're driving rather than getting there on foot please do heed this warning - you won't be able to see it, but about a mile up the road there's a chain across the road.  And this ain't the place to be doing a three-point turn or reversing back...

Eventually you'll come across a little white and grey house in the distance;

Barnhill
This is Barnhill - where Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four - there's a great booklet available to buy in the Hotel foyer that tells the story of his time on the island.  The house is a private holiday let so you can't really get close but the views from up above are fantastic as you can see.  

Press on and you'll eventually come to the most northerly settlement on the island - Kinuachdrachd which apparently offers bunkhouse accommodation.  Your main purpose of being here is to make sure that you take the right route to the whirlpool however.  

¡No pasarĂ¡n!
Press on up past this sign and you'll soon see another smaller one partly hidden by the grass promising that the whirlpool is just (I think I'm remembering this right) a mile up the hill.  I think it's further than that in any case.  

You can't really go wrong at this point, just keep heading forward, the ground gets a bit boggy but nothing too much to worry about.  You'll eventually be rewarded by this view;

"Whirlpool"
As you can see, there's not much sign of the whirlpool - it's very tidal and I was there at the wrong time - I knew this but the bus times restricted me a bit.  Ask at the hotel for the best times to visit.  There are some videos on YouTube of the swirly goodness - here and here.  

I took my own little videos which (I think) have a sense of where the water would start spinning in a couple of hours - there are little darts and eddies that are slowly swirling around.  In the photo above you can see a real stillness in the water which is where the action happens.  

video

And once you've had your lunch and rested up a bit, it's time to start to think about the trip back.  Very straightforward, just retrace your steps - it's pretty much a wash in terms of ascends vs descends so you'll not be much faster or slower in either direction.  The bus back will pick you up where you were dropped off just after 4.45pm.  But if you miss it or are very early and don't want to wait, then you can easily hitch a lift - I was offered three in the ten minutes I was waiting there.  

What other walks can you say that you've seen a whirlpool and the house where a world-class piece of literature was written and still be back in time for dinner? 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Walking on Jura: Paps

Following on from this post and intended as a resource for future visitors to the Isle of Jura, I'm sharing some details of the walks that I did on Jura this summer.  There is a bit of dearth of info on the web on walks on Jura so aiming to make this a bit of a reference point for others - hoping it will be useful!

This post is for a trip up the legendary Paps of Jura.  

Again, the best written guide for walking on the island I found is this one;



And of course you'll want the right OS map.  All set with this and assuming that you're based in Craighouse (the main settlement) you've got so many great options.  



You can see in my photo above two and a half of the Paps - I climbed the one in the middle - Beinn Shiantaidh (Holy / Sacred Mountain) which is the second highest (not that I'm counting!) on the island at 757m.  The hill to the right is Corra Bheinn which is a useful reference point for you throughout the walk.  

Much as this walk, head on up out of the village on the main road - going North.  You can either walk (it's about a 5km initial trudge), use the intermittent (albeit very reliable) bus service (NB, the bus service has been re-tendered - it's now run by Garelochhead Coaches not Alex Dunnachie as per the Argyll and Bute website - the link I give here is the right one!) or try to hitch a lift.  I just walked.  

You'll reach 'Three Arch Bridge', the road bend up to the left for about 1/2 a mile.  You then see a signpost to the left of the road indicating 'Evans Walk'.  Here you have to busk it a little bit - the path isn't anywhere as near as clear on the ground as it is on the map.  Basically, head NW as well as you can using the local landmarks especially the old crofters fence (it crosses the path at NR5457411.  Keep going until about NR539747 when the path start to head pretty much due North.  At this point you leave the main path (not that you'll notice much difference!) and strike out alone!  

You need to kind of loop South-ish around the base of Corra Bheinn and then go West-ish and North-ish up to the series of little lakes - called Lochanan Tana on the map.  I'm being deliberately vague here as there's no right or wrong way, just keep heading towards the huge mountain in front of you and keep thinking, "Am I really going to climb that?!".  I had my lunch about this point and rested up - had been going since about 8 so felt like a reasonable time to stop.  


This view from the top of the climb shows the little lochs to give you a sense of what I'm talking about
Go left/South of the little Lochs and you'll see a kind of path / river-bed start to snake up the mountain.  Use this if it's dry enough until it starts to go off too far West.  This is where you start to really busk it.  

You basically start scrambling hand over hand up the scree - jumping onto the little patches of heather for stability where you can.  This is hard work.  Really hard work.  You have to cover something like 400m of ascent like this so take you time.  You're looking at at least an hour of climbing.  I found my walking poles very useful at this point to lever myself up the side of the mountain.  There's no obvious route, just keep going up and on and you'll eventually reach the top.  There's something of a false summit but just keep going and you'll see the man-made cairn of rocks at the top clearly enough.  

Then you get to enjoy this frankly incredible view and an amazing sense of achievement - it might not be the highest mountain in Scotland (not by a long way) but it's got to be one of the most demanding to complete.  





Catch your breath, take a drink of water and start to think about how you're going to get down.  

I originally intended to pretty much retrace my steps, but I met up on the top a guy from Northern Ireland who I buddied up with for the rest of the day and we together descended pretty much directly South aiming for the Corran River below.  If anything, the descent is harder than the climb - the pressure on your knees (and bum if you end up falling...!) on the slippery scree is tough and you certainly won't be much quicker coming down than you were going up.  Keep pressing on and you'll eventually reach the river.  

This very midge-y so take some repellent but also revel in the fact that you're now pretty much on the flat - head more or less East keeping the river on your left (you can cross at many locations) and you'll get to the road at Three Arch Bridge which you'll have seen this morning.  Have a little dip in the river, certainly if it was as hot as the day I did this take a long drink of  water (it's perfectly safe) and start to think about how you'll cover the 5km or so back to Craighouse.  You'll deserve a whisky that night...

I hope this helps some walkers if they're considering a trip up the Paps.  It's not easy but definitely worth it.  Leave me a comment or email at alex [at] alexball dot co dot uk if you've got any questions.  

1. This is a Grid Reference for the OS map - see an explanation here 

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Lake District

Given how much of a keen walker I am, it's always been a bit of a source of shame that I've never been to the English Lake District.  Well, I managed to rectify that omission this week just gone.  When a good friend said he was getting together a few of us to go the Lakes I jumped at the chance - especially when someone else does most of the organising!  

We stayed at a cottage in Chapel Stile in the Southern Lakes, not too far from Ambleside rented through Wheelwrights who appear to have cornered the market in holiday cottages in this area!  It was a good location and the cottage was lovely - a little bit dated in some of the decoration but big and with an excellent kitchen.  I only banged my head on the low beams once too...

The weather was a little variable but we managed to get to do some great walks - including about 90% of Crinkle Crags (got lost in the mist on the tops so called it off early) plus a trip along the Langdale Valley and out to Ambleside and also Grasmere and Keswick.  

Things that are probably commonplace for people who've been before, but new to me and that I recommend;

- Grasmere Gingerbread.  Simply yum and makes the visit to Wordsworth's grave especially fragrant!
- Sticklebarn.  Great pub with fab food run by the National Trust.  
- Bluebird Bitter.  From the award-winning Coniston Brewing Company - very tasty, especially when sampled at the excellent Britannia Inn.  
- And I even managed to get a little run in as part of my training for the Nottingham Half Marathon

I loved the fact that even a little stroll along the valley floor was stunningly beautiful and a little hike up would soon become almost alpine - I'll be back soon I think!



Thursday, 15 August 2013

Hello Telegraph Readers

If you're coming here from the Daily Telegraph article I've had published (here) then you're probably looking for more on my trip to America.  

Try some of these links;

My time with FDR's grandson in the Northeast

Cincinnati

Detroit's extraordinary decay

Travelling overnight on the Amtrak system

Silicon Valley

Yosemite National Park

Bentonville and Northwest Arkansas

A couple of posts on the re-election of President Obama in November 2012: here and here

But do have a poke about and see what you fancy