Category Archives: Europe – Northern Europe & Scandinavia

Austria, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzogovina

Jersey at War 1940-1945

It is often forgotten in the rush to visit yet another battlefield in France that just a few miles from England’s south coast, the only territory belonging to Great Britain endured almost five years of a harsh and brutal German occupation.

Now at Peace, the Beautiful Island of Jersey
Now at Peace, the Beautiful Island of Jersey

Hitler saw the Channel Islands as a strategic landing stage for an invasion of mainland France, and when in 1940 Churchill deemed the Islands indefensible (despite their heroic efforts to save Allied forces during the evacuation from Dunkirk) their occupation by the Germans became inevitable.

Entrance to the War Tunnels
Entrance to the War Tunnels
Museum Entrance to War Tunnels
Museum Entrance to War Tunnels

The story of Jersey’s occupation and the building of the tunnels is unfolded in slow and moving detail on a tour of Ho8 (Höhlgangsanlage 8), the kilometre long underground fortification that was conceived by the Germans as both store-rooms and a bombproof barracks. Known as The War Tunnels, this series of galleries is the best known of Jersey’s many tunnel complexes built by more than 5,000 forced labourers from Europe and Africa – Russians, Poles, Spanish Republicans, French and Algerian POWs.

These men all suffered at the hands of the occupiers, but the most barbaric and brutal treatment was meted out to the Russians who were regarded by the Nazis as Untermenschen – subhuman.  They were abused, beaten, starved and, literally, worked to death.

Islanders will tell you that the dead Russians were shovelled into the walls and buried where they had fallen: just a few years ago these wall burials were one of the facts mentioned on the Tunnel tour but when I enquired this time I was told that there was no real evidence for this particular barbarity.

Russian POWs on Jersey during World War ll
Russian POWs on Jersey during World War ll

Just before the occupation there were approximately 50,000 people living on Jersey, mostly native islanders, some seasonal workers from Ireland, France and Italy and some Austrian and Swiss.   Amid the panic in June 1940 Whitehall gave the islanders the option of leaving within 24 hours or remaining on the undefended island: by the end of the day nearly half the population had registered to leave.

Many changed their minds, however, when they saw how the people were packed, for the journey, like sardines on the only transport available – coal and cement boats – and eventually only 6,600 left. From the beginning of the occupation in July 1940, up until December 1940, there were only 1,750 German soldiers on Jersey, but within a year the number had increased to 11,500.

To the Soldaten it was a paradise, a holiday island with shops full of goods, gardens full of flowers, and a not too unfriendly people.  Photographs lining the tunnel walls show them relaxing on beaches in the sunshine, swimming, motoring, walking, young men enjoying a near normal life – a long way from the middle of war. German Wax Works[1] But the atmosphere changed on October 21st 1940, when the Order was passed demanding a register of all known Jews and Jewish businesses.  In June, 1942, it was ordered that all wirelesses be handed in and just three months later, on September 15th, the Order came for all British-born islanders to be deported to Germany.   Over several days 1,200 of them were led away to an unknown fate with more deportations following in February 1943 when the Germans rounded up the remaining Jews, Freemasons, retired army officers and protesters.

And now food was getting short.  Tea was made from bramble leaves or carrots, coffee from acorns or roasted parsnips, shoes were repaired with bits of wood, clothes cut from old curtains, and lipstick made from oil and coloured dyes.  Soap was a rarity (sand mixed with ash was used as a substitute) gas was cut off every evening, and communal bake houses and soup kitchens were opened.

Scene from the Museum in Jersey. Wax Work of Woman and Food
Scene from the Museum in Jersey. Wax Work of Woman and Food

Some girls found it hard to resist the handsome young blond soldiers and there was a certain amount of fraternisation despite the stigma it carried: the other islanders called them ‘Jerry bags’ and worse.  They weren’t the only ones who fraternised, however.

Lack of food and clothing was a great incentive to work for the Germans because of the high wages paid and the extra rations given. There was resistance to the occupation in the form of painting V-signs on buildings, the theft of arms and explosives from barracks, and the use of the forbidden radios: if caught, the penalty was harsh – deportation to a concentration camp in Germany.  The same punishment was meted out for offering food and shelter to escaping POWs and it is recorded that three members of one family were deported for merely offering some food to starving prisoners:  one member of the family died in the gas chambers at Ravensbrὒck.

Reminders of the 1939-45 war still to be seen in Jersey
Reminders of the 1939-45 war still to be seen in Jersey

These are the stories you hear as you walk through the underground galleries, each dedicated to a period.  There are last letters written to loved ones, daily printed Orders from the German occupiers and tableaux showing German soldiers speaking careful English to the young women of Jersey.

But the most moving of all images are the pictures of the starving Russian POWs dressed in rags, whose dark, haunted eyes staring out of the photographs speak of their utter despair.  It is an exhibition that tells the story of the Occupation in the words and pictures of the people who lived through it.

The final, unfinished, tunnel is black as the deepest night, a flickering light at the end of the tunnel the only sign of the outside world.  As you grope your way through the darkness, a tremendous noise erupts and echoes around the cavelike space as though the world were about to end.  The earth seems to vibrate beneath your feet, the sound of rocks crashing round about is deafening and there is an overwhelming feeling that the ceiling is about to collapse, burying you forever.  And you think back to the pictures of the POWs you’ve seen and you know why each one wore a haunted look.

Black Tunnel in which the POWs worked.
Black Tunnel in which the POWs worked.

The Normandy landings in 1944 heralded the final phase of the German occupation of the Islands, but it also meant that the supply routes were cut off.   For the next eight months, the local population and the 28,000-strong German garrison were close to starvation both sides vying for the sparse grasses, berries, and edible tubers that were in the fields. Churchhill refused to help the islanders as he considered that the Germans, who were caught between France and England with no hope of escape, would benefit from such assistance.

The Germans acted with surprising decency towards the end of the war.  When Red Cross parcels arrived for the starving people of Jersey, the soldiers delivered them to the houses and it is recorded that no parcels were opened and that no food was stolen.  It is almost hard to believe, considering that they too were starving and considering also, their former behaviour.

Outside the tunnels, The Garden of Reflection provides a peaceful place in which to reflect on the suffering of the islanders, rendered defenceless by the UK and forced to find a way of existing with the enemy, and of the POWs who lived lives of utter misery and degradation.  The lives of all are brought vividly to life in the tunnels of Ho8 Höhlgangsanlage, the Jersey War Tunnels.

Jersey today, bright and cheerful
Jersey today, bright and cheerful

 ALL  FULL PAGE IMAGES ARE COURTESY OF JERSEY TOURISM

FACT FILE

Jersey War Tunnels,  Les Charrières Malorey,  St Lawrence,  Jersey,  Channel Islands JE3 1FU.   Open seven days a week 1st March – 31st October 2014.  10.00 am – 6.00pm (last entry 4.30 pm) dults £11.50,  Children (7 – 15) – Must be accompanied by an adult £7.50

Adults £11.50,  Children (7 – 15) – Must be accompanied by an adult £7.50 Senior citizens £10.50,   Students (with valid ID card) £8.50 Jersey Tourism (www.jersey.com)

The Best Salmon Restaurant in Sweden

Every once in a while one comes across a really superb restaurant in an unexpected place, sometimes on a main road, sometimes hidden away down a side street, and last week this happened to me.

On the long drive between Gothenburg and Oslo, I found Laxbutiken LJungskile by exiting off the main road to this “salmon house” recommended by my friend Kelly Andersson from Gothenburg, who spoke in very complimentary terms about the food.

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The self-serve coffee area.
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Cool, clean, Scandinavian decor

Situated beside a lake, with outdoor seating surrounding the elegantly designed restaurant, one could imagine the pleasure of dining in the outdoor space during a Swedish summer, but this was November, so it was inside for us.

The interior did not disappoint.  Elegant décor in grey and lime green set of the food which was arranged in a long glass cabinet behind which stood smiling waitresses with advice.

And advice was needed!   Here was more salmon than I’d ever seen served in more ways than I’d ever known.  Eight types of smoked salmon, from the basic Gravdlax to smoked salmon with different herbs and mixtures of herbs, there was poached salmon, grilled salmon, boiled salmon, salted salmon,

A salmon dish with sauces
A salmon dish with sauces
Salmon in every form
Salmon in every form
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A selection of salmon dishes

deep fried salmon, salmon pie, salmon cake and more.  To go with these were delicious sauces like caviar sauce, white sauce with dill, lobster butter sauce, Malibu sauce, and a deep green garlic and spinach sauce.

The choice was difficult so I eventually decided on the Large Salmon Platter which gave me five varieties of salmon, 2 sauces, salad and boiled potatoes (at an unbelievable 145 Kroner).  More than I could eat, I was relieved to be offered a “doggy bag” (a rather elegant box packed in another bag) to take away.

The simplicity of good ingredients well prepared and served
The simplicity of good ingredients well prepared and served

TATE BRITAIN – GREAT BRITISH ART IN LONDON

A Grenadier Guard in London
A Grenadier Guard in London

Tate Britain, the original Tate Gallery to distinguish it from Tate Modern, is situated near Lambeth Palace and just a short walk from the South Bank, the Eye and Westminster.  It is an elegant building with a neo-classical portico in the area of Millbank and stands on the site of the former Millbank Penitentiary.  It houses the greatest collection of British Art in the world, works by  Epstein, Gainsborough, Hirst, Hockney, Hogarth, Rossetti, Sickert, Spencer, Stubbs,  and the artists of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood who revolutionised British art in the 19th century.      copyright Tate Britain

Special attention is given to three outstanding British artists from the Romantic age: Blake and Constable have dedicated spaces within the gallery, while the Turner Collection of approximately 300 paintings and many thousands of watercolours, is housed in the specially built Clore Gallery.

Originally called the National Gallery of British Art it started with a collection of 65 modern British paintings given by its founder Sir Henry Tate (he of the sugar cube and sugar refining firm) when it opened in 1897.  A further gift from Sir Henry in 1899 enabled an extension to be built, and in 1910 thanks to the gift of Sir Joseph Duveen, the Turner Wing was completed.

Over the years the Gallery amassed a collection of works dating from the 16th to the 20th century, to include Modern Art in 1916 and three new galleries for foreign art ten years later.  This led to a change of name from National Gallery of British Art to The Tate Gallery.

Parliament, Lndon, in evening light.
Parliament, London, in evening light.

The Tate is rightly famous for its collection of the works of the foremost English Romantic painter and landscape artist –  J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851).   Turner left his collection of oil paintings and thousands of studies to the nation on condition that they were kept together, and in 1987 the Clore Gallery was opened to house this magnificent bequest.

When the Tate Modern opened on Bankside in 2000, a decision was made to create more space by transferring the collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day to the new gallery.  Tate Modern, a former pumping station, is the perfect repository for modern art, and in the Turbine Hall, it has space to display enormous installations.

Looking Across to the Embankment from the South Bank, London
Looking Across to the Embankment from the South Bank, London

Tate Britain however, continues to house the Turner Prize exhibition, one of the art world’s most controversial prizes.  Awarded to an artist under 50, British or working in Great Britain, the Turner Prize attracts both media attention and public demonstrations, former well known winners being Damien Hirst, Grayson Perry and Gilbert and George.

The Tate is no stranger to controversy, from accusations of favouritism in the purchase of work by Royal Academicians in the 19th century to media ridicule of the works it purchases today.  There was the famous case in 1972 of the work by Carl Andre popularly known as The Bricks, which caused The Times newspaper to complain about institutional waste of taxpayers’ money.  In 1995 a gift of £20,000 from art fraudster John Drewe came to light, along with the fact that the gallery had given Drewe access to its archives from which he forged documents authenticating fake paintings which he then sold.  The last major scandal was in 2005 over the Tate’s purchase of Chris Ofili’s work The Upper Room for £705,000 with accusations of a conflict of interest.

None of these controversies however, detracts from the Tate’s magnificence.  Whatever time of the year one chooses to visit, there will be one or two challenging exhibitions ranging from Neo-classical sculptures, exhibitions of the work of Rubens, William Blake, and Millais (founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), to film and video work of Derek Jarman and that of the Iranian film maker and photographer, Mitra Tabrizian.  All this as well as the gallery’s normal offerings.

View Over London from The Shard, Highest Building in Western Europe
View Over London from The Shard, Highest Building in Western Europe

Three year’s ago the Tate held the Francis Bacon Exhibition (1909-1992), a re-assessment of his work in the light of new research since his death, comprising around 60 of his most important pieces from each period of his life.   It showed in great detail, the work of possibly the 20th century’s greatest painter of the human figure in an exhibition that captured its sexuality, violence and isolation.  The artist’s bleak outlook, his flamboyant homosexuality and his colourful private life had made him a controversial figure in life as much as in death.

For those visiting Liverpool, the superb Tate Liverpool which opened in 1988 shows various works from the London Tates as well as mounting its own eclectic displays and for those heading for Cornwall, the Tate St. Ives has an equally impressive collection.

The London Eye
The London Eye

The out-of-London Tates entail rail or coach travel from London, but Tate Britain is an easy walk from Westminster.  For a truly memorable arrival, the best way to travel is by river-boat which leaves half-hourly from Tate Modern on the Thames, stopping at the London Eye along the way.

Like that other great palace of art in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, the Tate also offers free admission apart from special exhibitions.

website: www.tate.org.uk

Open 10.00 a.m. to 17.50 daily.

Bus No. 77A runs from the centre of London through Westminster, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and Aldwych to the Museum every ten minutes.   Nearest underground:  Pimlico.    Two superb licensed restaurants are in the basement of the Gallery.

Visitors wanting a quick and expert guide to parts of the Gallery should take one of the free one-hour tours offered daily which start at 11 a.m. 12 p.m. 2 p.m. and 3 p.m (Saturdays and Sundays 12.00 and 15.00 only).

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”.