Posh camping

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The wife and I have been known to venture into the great outdoors in a tent over the last few years. I find it really relaxing and great to get back to the countryside. There are a few pre-requisites to a weekend away however – it needs to be warm, not raining, and the campsite needs good facilities and a pub within walking distance! Most of these are easy to achieve in the UK now (and especially in Derbyshire which is close by) with one exception –  the good weather!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo our recent visit to Wiltshire for a few days was ‘upgraded’ to a glamping weekend! I had seen various sites on the web with ‘pods’ when looking for campsites, but had never experienced one first hand. So our first attempt at glamping was going to be a great adventure!

And, having now ‘glamped’ for two nights in a wooden ‘pod’ at the Stonehenge Campsite (highly recommended by the way) I can confirm that it is without doubt the way to go!

The pod was large enough to contain a proper bed, a cool box, a comfy chair and even an area with a kettle and toaster! Most importantly it had a heater and electric lights and was consequently amazingly comfortable and warm. The site even has WIFI so we could keep in touch with the World if we wanted to without difficulty.

And the best bit – you don’t get woken by the sun coming through the walls of the tent at 5am! Thoroughly recommended for a few days away with a difference!

Almost World Class

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This last weekend the wife and I have been on what could be described as a bit of a personal pilgrimage (for me) – we have been to Wiltshire. More accurately we have been down to the area around Salisbury and Stonehenge, this is where I was born (Salisbury, not Stonehenge) so the area has a certain draw for me still. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things I was looking forward to from our trip was seeing the new Stonehenge visitors centre (and the ‘improved’ area around Stonehenge itself). I was not disappointed by the new building, it is quite something, and quite ‘out there’ as far as buildings used by English Heritage go. It has some great features and somehow ‘fits in’ to the open landscape that is Salisbury Plain. Stonehenge is without doubt a World Class ‘attraction’ – it is after all a World Heritage site, so it is up there with some fairly impressive competition – The Pyramids at Giza, The Taj Mahal, The Vatican – you get the idea. So I applaud what has been achieved here, the centre is amazing and the improved landscape around the stones created by closing and removing the road past has made it feel much more ‘rural’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever I get the feeling that English Heritage just aren’t used to running such a high profile site. As I have said the building is great, but the staff (who are all dressed in their corporate uniforms) just aren’t enthusiastic – or dare I say it – friendly and polite. Also there is a ‘land train’ that takes you the mile and a half down to the stones themselves. This is very slick and comprises three carriages pulled by a Land-rover, which somehow feels just right for the location. But, although there is a full PA system in the land train it isn’t made use of it to tell the visitors about the site and build the moment before it comes into view (the new visitor centre is well away from the stones). If this was an attraction in the USA the trip there would be used to set the scene, not just to inform you the trip will take 5 to 7 minutes and not to open the windows! Yes there is an audio tour you can take, and the audio visual in the centre really is first class. But for an adult ticket at £14.90, (concession £13.40, child £8.90 and family £38.70) I personally expect just a bit more?

I found this shrub while walking around Westonbirt Arboretum today!

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I found this shrub while walking around Westonbirt Arboretum today. Names had been rubbed into the leaves all over it – sad to think that in a few weeks all the leaves will have dropped and the names forgotten!20121021-152408.jpg

An unusual use for a church?

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I have blogged previously about my home town of Malmesbury in Wiltshire, it is a small place with a large Abbey church at its centre. At one time it had the tallest spire in the UK (a title now taken by Salisbury Cathedral), but following its collapse it had a slightly chequered career (not helped by Henry the Eighth) until it became the parish church thanks to the generosity of William Stump, a local merchant.

It has had a fairly ‘normal’ history since then being used as a the local C of E church with a fairly active congregation. However for the past 3 years it has seen a significant change in February when for a few days in an attempt to attract younger people – it becomes a skate park!

20120215-202136.jpgNow as far as my 87 year old mother is concerned this is not an acceptable use for a church – she becomes ‘angry of Malmesbury’ when the subject comes up in conversation. I accept that the older generation can have issue with this type of thing, but this week I had my first opportunity to actually see the Abbey converted to its skate use. I had a vision of big ramps and scaffolding everywhere, however the truth was somewhat ‘underwhelming’ if I am honest!

The conversion is fairly low key which got me thinking whether or not I feel this is a good idea. It has created national interest in the town and its church, which has to be good. It is also getting people into a building that they would normally go nowhere near – another good thing.

Overall I think all organisations have to change with the times – whether they are religious organisations or other public bodies is irrelevant – I think the Abbey should be congratulated for ‘pushing the envelope’.

Supermarkets and small towns.

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I am a small town lad and proud of it – we live in a society today that unfortunately believes that ‘bigger is better’. However the ‘small town upbringing’ that I had is, I think, good for providing a better understanding of what really makes our country tick and perhaps make me a little more understanding about the differences between city and county.

The Abbey

My home town is Malmesbury in Wiltshire – described as a hill-top town, it is rather pretty as it is surrounded on three sides by rivers. It has a Norman Abbey (or what is left of it) at its heart and was also the capital of England once (no really!) and has a King buried in the Abbey (Athelstan). It was also the site of the first manned flight (by Elmer the monk).

So, a lot of history and not a huge amount of room for the town to grow, although it has over the last 30 years more than doubled in size. Unfortunately that now makes it of interest to the large supermarket operators and it is now subject to two planning applications – one from Sainsbury’s and one from Waitrose.

Now, I have commented on this blog numerous times before about my view on the negative effect that the supermarket has had on our town centres (and our way of life). Mostly by way they cause the loss of the traditional traders – butchers, bakers etc, and this is my concern in respect of Malmesbury. The town, which has a population of around 5000, still has two bakers, two good butchers and green grocers and delis and similar. It has a real community feel to the High Street and surrounding area, my dread is that the supermarkets will kill this dead.

As usual both supermarket operators are offering ‘the world’ to the town by pushing all the positives to get the planning they desire – link buses to the store etc. My personal hope is that neither application succeeds, but realistically one of the applications will undoubtably be passed, if so I hope it won’t be Sainsbury’s, as their site is too far out of the town. History tells me that they will perhaps also “change the ground rules” once they have the permission!

Waitrose have a site closer to the town centre (within walking distance) and will in my view be a kinder bed fellow for the local businesses if they are forced to have one. Time will tell, but I really hope my home town doesn’t become yet another victim of the supermarket tidal wave! Whatever happens there are interesting times ahead for Malmesbury.

This appeals to a Wiltshire man!

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As a Born and bred Wiltshire-man I have an affinity for Stonehenge – I was actually born in Salisbury so can claim a link. Visiting the stones is special, they may only be large monoliths but there is a feeling of something significant there. Obviously the solstice is the big event there – and no I haven’t ever been there for it and I am not a Druid! But when the sun settles between the stones during the Summer Solstice it must look amazing. And this week I discovered that there is an American version – in Manhattan!

They call it “Manhattanhenge”.

The effect occurs twice a year and has become a major event for people to watch and photograph. It doesn’t occur on the solstice due to the alignment of the avenues – but it is still amazing to see.

Last Wednesday night was this summers, the east-west lying streets of the city’s grid system framed the setting sun, creating golden glows New Yorker’s rarely see. During the phenomenon, the Sun appears to be nestled perfectly between the skyscraper corridors, illuminating the north and south sides of the streets – a rare event in the canyons that are Manhattan..

The term Manhattanhenge first appeared in 1996, and has now stuck. I would love to see this and photograph it (although getting a good shot without being run down by the yellow cabs would be a challenge in its self!)

I wonder if in a thousands of years archeologists finding the remains of Manhattan will have theories about the line of the streets being related to sun worship!

Proud to be a Wiltshire man!

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Without doubt I hail from one of the UK’s ‘minor counties’ – Although Wiltshire has no major claims to fame, it has had a few famous people;

The list goes on. But the news today that Wootton Bassett which is only a few miles from my home town of Malmesbury is to be granted Royal status did make me proud to be a Wiltshire man!

I would like to think that it goes to show that country people (for that is what most of us Witshire MoonRakers are) know how to behave and relate to our fellow citizens.

Well done Royal Wootton Bassett you have done us proud!

Always a country boy?

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I have always considered myself to be somewhat of a ‘country boy’. I spent my first eight years in Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds and my later childhood in Malmesbury in Wiltshire.

Malmesbury is famous for being England’s oldest Borough, having an Abbey which had the tallest spire in England (before it collapsed), a flying monk (who broke both legs) and finally for being the Capital of England under King Athelstan (honestly!). Despite this, both were small towns with little going on and my later youth was somewhat parochial in nature!

The high spots of Malmesbury in my youth as I recall were the open air swimming pool and the numerous pubs (at least 8 if I remember correctly for a population of 1500!). When I moved to Nottingham as a student I was very happy that it was a city (with even more pubs), but with a very friendly feel – still the case and one of Nottinghams greatest attributes.

I now love going back to Malmesbury (my mother still lives there), the pace of life is so much slower and the countryside is beautiful, I find I relax so quickly! It is also dark at night as there is no ‘city glow’! It has changed though, the population has more than tripled and it is even home to a well known music festival (Womad)! All 3 schools in the town I went to have also been demolished and redeveloped since I left, perhaps this should tell me something!

The one thing that sometimes makes me miss my city life when I am here is a lack of Internet access. My mother does not have broadband (she is 85 so it’s not likely!) and the town has a poor signal on O2 (ie. No 3G). Consequently any access via my iPhone is SLOW! I am blogging this from my iPhone but it will take minutes for this blog to upload (assuming it doesn’t crash).

Does this mean I am turning into a geeky towny? Probably not, the pleasures of the countryside are too deeply etched into my soul, but please let’s improve national data coverage!