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The Shard – London’s New Viewing Attraction

Daytime View from The Shard, London
Nightime View from The Shard, London

The Shard.  Ah!  I look up from the ground and marvel at the design, at the shards of glass that catch the light and splay out at the top.  I had watched it slowly take over its London site, putting in the shade even the famous green glass building that the locals have named The Gherkin.

Then last week during the World Travel Market at Excel, I was privileged to be invited to take a trip to the top of The Shard to experience the incredible views over London from this spectacular building designed by Master Architect Renzo Piano.  And what a vista.

London Bridge from The Shard

With a 360 degree view over the city to a distance of 64 km (40 miles), and from 800 feet up in the sky in the tallest building in Western Europe, London had never looked better.  The Shard is twice as high as any other viewing point in London and the only place in the city from which you can see all of London.

The View from the Shard

For the first time I could see how the River Thames has helped create this great city, how it snakes in and out, meandering north and south in ways I had never realized.   Tiny boats sailed on its muddy waters, like toys pushed off from river banks by little boys.

The Majesric River Thames

From high in our eyrie on Level 69 we could see all of London’s famous landmarks – even on a grey drizzly day.  Easy to pick out the Emirates Stadium (home of the Arsenal football team), Wembley Stadium, Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s etc. and by following the railways with their toy-trains for all the world like the Hornby set I played with a child I could find the railway stations and using this as a guide, find lesser known sites in the area.

Trains on London’s Railways as viewed from The Shard

Technical Help on Viewing Platform

One of the Tell Scopes on Level 69

Of course there are telescopes too.  Not just telescopes, but Tell:scopes, a state of the art system that provides both day and night views of London and information in ten languages.  One thousand years of history and some of the most iconic buildings in the world lie before the viewer as digital Tell:scopes  help visitors explore the cityscape in every direction.

From these viewing galleries it is possible to ascend even higher to Level 72 where, at the highest accessible point of The Shard, guests can stand in the open air, surrounded by the giant shards of glass that seen ti disappear into the sky.  The Shard title derives from the sculpted design which consists of glass facets that incline inwards but which do not meet at the top but instead, open to the sky to allow the building to breathe naturally.

Rood Gardens on the City’s Important Buildings

Further Details and how to book:

The View from the Shard will offer a totally immersive experience of one of the greatest cities on earth when it opens to the public on February 1st 2012.

Restaurants, offices, executive apartments and the Shangri-La Hotel their first time in London ) occupy different floors of the building.  Two lifts whisk visitors to the top in 30 seconds.

Tickets can be reserved for dates next year at www.theviewfromtheshard.com at £24. 95 for adults and £18. 95 for children or via the box office hotline +44(0)844 499 7111.  Open 0900-2200 daily.  Nearest tube station is London Bridge, bus routes 43, 141, 148 and 521 stop there and bus 151 goes from London Bridge. Boat from Westminster Pier leaves hourly.

Not a Job if you Suffer from Vertigo!

Ellen Terry Museum, Smallhythe Place, Kent

Needing to get some photographs for an article on pretty Kent villages, took myself off to the Weald last week only to find that places like Tenterden and Biddenden had thrown themselves into Jubilee mode with a vengeance.  Medieval doorways draped with the Union Jack, windows bedecked with red, white and blue ribbons, and bunting strung across the streets wasn’t what my editor wanted for the article, so I had to leave this particular area and postpone the writing.

Looking round for an alternative idea I thought of covering some of the lovely venues in the area and headed for Sissinghurst which I’d visited some years ago.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t checked opening days and when I got there found it wasn’t open on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  Very disappointed.

I felt it would have been helpful if National Trust had put a sign by the entrance giving the Opening Days, saving visitors a drive down to the car park and then a walk to the entrance, only to be refused entry.

Sissinghurst Castle

However, the sun was shining so I looked around the exterior of the buildings, checked out the plants for sale, was tempted by the David Austin roses for sale and enjoyed the lovely views.    The emerald lawns looked spectacular and the exterior was immaculate, making it even sadder that I couldn’t gain entry to the house and gardens.

Smallhythe Place Museum – former home of Ellen Terry

From there I drove on to Smallhythe Place, the best little Museum I have ever visited.  Also a National Trust venue but they were open – until 4.30 that is.  Smallhythe was the former home of one of England’s most beloved actresses, Ellen Terry, and the house still seems like a home, full of her treasures and memorabilia from various roles she performed on the London stage.

The Barn Theatre, Smallhythe Place

In the gardens is The Barn Theatre where many famous actors have worked (plays are still performed, but it is a private theatre), and the gardens are full of the roses she loved, every one of which had an exquisite smell.

So, all was not lost on my trip to Kent, but I have made a note to avoid all celebratory times if I want to take photographs as the decorations do date them.

Marble Bust of Ellen Terry

The Old Gaffers’ Festival, Isle of Wight

Yarmouth Harbour with Car Ferry in Background

It’s a bit late now to tell you about the Old Gaffers’ Festival at Yarmouth which was a great success last week-end 25-27 May.  Coinciding with what we hope was the start of our British summer, it attracted people from all over the south of England plus the residents of the Isle of Wight who flocked to the little town in their thousands to welcome the Old Gaffers.

Crowds throng the streets over the weekend.

For those of you who may be wondering what, or who, are the Old Gaffers, they are a type of sailing boat (I’ve given a link to the website where you can find the technical details) and the Yarmouth Festival attracts the boats and their owners for a weekend of sailing and merry-making.  The gaff-rigged boats, dressed overall, is something one doesn’t see every day and the harbour filled with the colourful boats is a complete contrast to the usual fleet of everyday boats.  The main race was on the Saturday, but people were arriving on the Friday for the Continental Fair (this could be Continental Fare as there was food from France, Spain, Italy and Germany on sale, both as takeaway and to eat there and then).

Boats Dressed to Kill

Glorious weather on the Saturday and Sunday meant that the town was pretty busy but the exceptional stalls in the main square, the displays of food, bread, sausages, pastas and paellas were so enticing, that more than half the people spent time looking and tasting which left the beach and pier less crowded for those whose main interest was the sailing.

Morris Dancers

Various horticultural merchants were offering bargains in unusual plants and shrubs, craftsmen and women were demonstrating their workmanship and the whole event was like an old fashioned Fair.  It was almost a novelty not to have the usual market traders hawking their goods.

Freshwater & Totland Samba Band

On the Friday night Rob da Bank topped the bill with some great acts and the tribute bands had their turn on the Saturday night.  Bands played all day long, marching bands, bands in marquees, jazz bands, and even the Freshwater and Totland Samba Band paraded through the town.  The Wight Hot Pipes (bagpipes, guitar and keyboard) were on hand, as were the Boogie Woogie Pianos with Team le Roc dancers, and The Crew sang shanties and sea songs in keeping with the Festival.  There was even a male voice choir.  Among the street entertainers was a magician, the Men O’Wight Morris Dancers, Irish country dancing from th Ceri Dancers and on the sea the RNLI lifeboat demonstrated a search and rescue mission.

Sea Shanties from the Boat

The Beer Tent and the Real Ale tent, the Strawberries and Cream Teas, and the local ice-cream makers were all kept pretty busy.  Those who could tear themselves away from the eating and the fun around the harbour could inspect the Veteran and Vintage vehicles that were on display.

Once again, The Old Gaffers Festival has pleased thousands of people.  Let’s hope the weather is equally kind for next year’s event.

The overflow found the shingle beach quite comfortable

 

A Walk in the Woods on the Isle of Wight

Thanks to the glorious weather currently being enjoyed by most people in the UK, I’ve been able to explore some of the hidden gems on the Isle of Wight, England’s island in the Solent, and home for many years to Queen Victoria and her family.  Just ten minutes by fast catamaran from Portsmouth, or twenty minutes by Fast Jet from Southampton, the island is one of the UK’s favouite holiday resorts.

Apart from the delightful sandy beaches of Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor, and the pebbly beaches and rockpools of Bembridge and Seaview, there are miles of coastal, forest and woodland walks.  Yesterday I took myself into the woods at Borthwood Copse, near the ancient village of Alverstone, to view the bluebells.  To see these at their best I shall have to return in about a week’s time I think, but meantime, those that were in bloom, made a lovely misty blue carpet under the trees.

Before entering the woods, I popped into the Hide at the Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to see if I could spot a red squirrel (the island is one of the few places where these delightful little creatures have managed to fight off the grey squirrel predators) and I was lucky enough to see one.  Just outside the entrance, there is a list of what birds have been spotted that day (see image).  What a wonderful resource for anyone visiting, especially bird watchers.  I spent far too long in the Hide, absorbed by the ducks, geese and other wildlife that had nested on the pond below, so had to cut my walk short in order to meet up with friends for lunch in nearby Godshill.

The woods were magical.  Few people were walking there, a few had well behaved dogs on leads, most had cameras and many took advantage of the tree stumps dotted around the place, to rest and gaze at the myriad shades of green that formed the woods.  There were copper coloured leaves on the ground which made a contrast to the young green of new shoots, the fallen tree-trunks stretched across them like an illustration from a fairy tale.  I could imagine Red Riding Hood wandering through just such woods as these.

Weekend in Lewes, Sussex

Just back from Lewes in Sussex, where Thomas Paine, the famous radical propagandist and voice of the common man, served as an excise officer from around 1768.   His most important work was The Rights of Man, a book in which he urged political rights and equality for all men, calling for legislation to help change the shocking conditions of the late 18th century poor in England.  Paine was influential in the American war of Independence and the French Revolution.

Considering the man’s importance I was surprised to find little to connect this giant revolutionary figure with Lewes, although I did buy an exquisite print of part of a pamphlet from Peter Chasseaud at The Market Tower, Lewes (The Tom Paine Printing Press), on hand-made paper.  Harvey’s, the local brewery, whose well-stocked shop is always busy, sells a tee-shirt on which  Tom Paine’s image is printed, but this is to sell its beer, not to honour the man.

Maybe Lewes, the perfect conservative market town, has little taste for revolutionaries?

That aside, the town is delightful and easily accessible, with cobbled streets leading up to the castle from which the views over the surrounding area are breathtaking.  Shopping is decidedly upmarket, whether for clothing or jewellry, but there are the usual supermarkets and department stores in the main part of town for more budget conscious buyers.

Nearby Brighton is, as ever, a great city in which to spend a few hours, and I spent nearly 3 at the exhibition on The Land Girls from both world wars at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, always a pleasant place in which to browse the changing exhibitions and display rooms.  The icing on the cake is the excellent cafe alongside and a shop selling the most tempting array of gifts I’ve ever seen.  Definitely my No. 1 Museum Gift shop.

The Land Girls exhibition highlights personal stories, propaganda, paintings, posters and photographs, revealing women’s experiences as they left home to live on farms and learn milking, rat catching and tractor driving, to help the war effort.  A fascinating glimpse into a world many people know little about.

The Brighton Film Festival is running until 6th December and I managed to catch up with some films I’d missed as well as viewing the more recent arrivals.

And then came the rain – but this is England in December, so what can we expect?  Brighton still put on its sunniest smiles and welcomed visitors despite the downpours.  It says a lot for this busy, energetic city, often called London by Sea, that the restaurants and cafes were packing them in and the people in the streets seemed stoic in the face of the torrential downpour.

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The Isle of Wight -Sea, Sand and Festivals

They flock here for the walking, the cycling, the clean, fresh air, and the sea and the sand.  They also come for the Pop Festival which takes place every year and is such a success that the organizers are now talking of having two per year. Top groups headline the event, from The Rolling Stones, to Lily Allen, and the island almost sinks under the crowds that arrive for four days of music and fun. The original pop festival was way back in the sixties, when the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Doors, Tiny Tim (remember him?) and various other singers and groups thrilled the fans who flocked to the island from all over Europe. Now that pop festivals are two a penny, we don’t make the headlines as we did then, but it’s still an important date on the festival calendar.

Buddle Inn, Isle of Wight, famous pub in connection with smugglers.
Buddle Inn, Isle of Wight, famous pub in connection with smugglers.

When the visitors recover from the heady excitement of sleeping in tents and living on burgers and chips, they usually head off to see the sights.  Osborne House,  Queen Victoria’s Italianate villa near Cowes and an English Heritage property, is high on everyone’s list as it is one of the few royal summer palaces that still resembles a family home.  It is much as it was when Queen Victoria was on the throne, and the children’s nursery, their toys, her desk next to that of her beloved husband Albert, and the many stone statues of the family pets are still scattered about the house and grounds.  Victoria’s tiny bed where she died is still on view along with the bathrooms and part of the kitchens and an amazing collection of family photographs.

There is now a delightful cottage in the grounds of the estate which can be rented for long weekends or a week, during which time the renters have the use of the grounds after the visitors have gone. Queen for a day!

Osborne House, Queen Victoria's Home on the Isle of Wight

Round then to Cowes to view the sailing boats battling the currents and the winds on the Solent. The world’s most famous Regatta, Cowes Week (actually ten days in August) may no longer attract the crowned heads of Europe but it still attracts the royally rich in their magnificent yachts to sport on the Solent’s famous waters.  Yachts owned my billionaires and crewed by millionaire they say.

View from The Downs, Isle of WightA stop at Farringford House for coffee in the former home of the poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, where one can sit on the terrace and gazed at the magnificent lawns that sweep down to Freshwater Bay and then, suitably refreshed,  a hike across Tennyson Downs where it is said the poet composed The Charge of the Light Brigade, reciting it as he strode along the coastal path, cape flapping in the breeze and breathing in air that he described as “worth 6d. a pint”.

Quiet evening on the sea

Time must be allowed for visiting Carisbrooke Castle from which Charles I was taken to London and beheaded, the delightful Brading Roman Villa with an excellent shop on site, good restaurant/cafe and daily activities for children which involves dressing up.   The island has a reputation of great pubs serving good beers (and wines) and in between visits to famous landmarks and museums, the traditional pubs – old, thatched, with flagged floors and old beams, offer great places for lunch or a snack, morning coffee or afternoon cream tea, and for the fresh home grown pork and lamb, home cured bacon and sausages, our own garlic dishes from the garlic farm, lobster, crabs, prawns and fish straight from the sea.

Truly, an Isle of wonders.

Shanklin, The Crab Inn

And maybe, book up again for the next music festival?  The Blues Festival, or Bestival in September, another great week-end of music under the stars on an island that Karl Marx described as “a little bit of paradise”.