Posted by: travelrat | November 26, 2014


Tracker 1_copy

Fengdu: 15th May 2014

Today’s excursion was to the ‘Ghost City of Fengdu’. To get to the city, we’d have 400-odd steps to negotiate, for the city stands at the top of a sheer cliff … and, before that, 100 steps to get from the quayside to the coach.

We weren’t that keen on climbing so many steps … and the final decider was that it was raining … an insidious, penetrating drizzle, punctuated by heavier showers. So, we decided we’d stay on the boat for this one. But, we did watch a constant stream of umbrellas going ashore to brave the elements, determined to get their money’s worth.

CKA Fengdu_copy

It had been raining all the way up here, through the Qutang and Wu Gorges, but the low cloud and mist didn’t detract from the scenery at all … indeed, it added an air of mystery and other-worldedness to it.

Fengdu is as far as the Yangtze 2 is going this trip. It was planned to terminate at Chongqing, but the river levels dictated it couldn’t go any further. So, the following morning, we disembarked; the luggage carried up those steps … four, or even six cases at a time … by ‘trackers’, using a yoke.

In bygone days, boats had been man-hauled up the tributary streams by these ‘trackers but, since it’s now possible to sail up most of the gorges, there’s no longer any call for them.

We’d seen pictures of the trackers at work, in the theatre at Shenong … you can’t help but notice the bare buttocks. A video on the ship explained them. The traditional garb of the trackers was silk shorts, but, since they chafed so much, most of them preferred to work naked.

Nowadays, they’re simply employed as luggage porters … and they keep their clothes on!

Tracker 2_copy

Posted by: travelrat | November 24, 2014

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle: 10th October 2014.

Arundel Castle is claimed as one of the oldest constantly occupied country houses in Britain. It’s the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk, although the present Duke doesn’t actually live there, It’s still completely habitable, though, and packed with memorabilia of previous members of the family.

The original castle was built on the orders of William the Conqueror on a low hill overlooking the Arun river; a particularly vulnerable point, if anyone wanted to invade. Work started in 1067, but, of course, it was extended and modified considerably since.

Names which crop up constantly around the castle are Fitzalan and Howard; we’ve already visited the Fitzalan family chapel. These date back to the 13th Century, when John Fitzalan married the heiress of the castle, and was granted the Earldom of Arundel. The Fitzalan line ceased in 1580, when Mary Fitzalan married Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, whose descendants still nominally hold the castle.

It was damaged considerably in the Civil War in the 17th Century, but successive Dukes restored it, converting it gradually from a defensive work to a country house.

But, they retained the old Norman keep, for its antiquity and picturesque quality.

Photography is prohibited within the house, so we’re rather picture-poor in that department. But, I shall try to paint a word-picture next week.

Posted by: travelrat | November 21, 2014

Wireless in Wales

Wireless Museum

Denbigh: 23rd September 2014.

It’s probably a sign of advancing age when you go into a museum, and see artefacts you not only recognise, but actually used ‘back in the day’. So it is with the ‘Wireless in Wales’ museum in Denbigh, which is in a couple of rooms in the Welsh Language Centre building.

For the youngsters, I’d better explain what ‘wireless’ means here. Before the days of wireless keyboards, mouses, TV remote controls and the like, it was simply a synonym for ‘radio’.

Its location is appropriate, for radio did play a part in the revival of the Welsh language … even though broadcasts in that language started relatively recently. I can remember a time when even regional accents weren’t heard on the airwaves (except in ‘The Archers’!)

The museum is based around the collection of the late David E Jones, an avid collector of radios, and a champion of the Welsh language. The collection doesn’t go back quite to the days of ‘Come here, Mr, Watson! I want you!’ but almost … there are several ‘cat’s whisker’ crystal sets here. And, of course, sets of a bygone age …. bearing stuff like ‘Hilversum’ and ‘Lyons PTT’ on their dials. I wonder if these stations are still going? Because you can’t pick them up on a modern VHF set.

I particularly noticed the old stuff that worked off rechargeable ‘wet’ batteries. This was of particular interest, for we had one at home. And, it was from Mr. Adams, who brought a fresh one around every week and took away the old one for recharging, that I got my first interest in radio.

On those old radios, you could trouble-shoot, too. Generally, it was just take the back off, and check for loose wires, and see if there were any thermionic valves not lit, and change them if there were. Nowadays, the only action you can take is try a new battery, and if that doesn’t work, toss it.

There’s also lots of information and interpretative displays … and a knowledgeable and enthusiastic curator on hand if these don’t tell you what you want.

I found it extremely interesting and absorbing … but, in my early days in the Royal Air Force, I was a radio operator/mechanic. Nevertheless, I think anyone would gain something from a visit, too.

Posted by: travelrat | November 19, 2014

Shenong Stream: Video

CJ Shenong Stream

Yangtze River: 13th May 2014.

How very odd! I was going to put up some video of our cruise up the Shenong Stream today, and found it’s already been posted … in the ‘Dragon Stream Video’ post. You see, I uploaded it to YouTube last week, and it seems that they embed your whole ‘playlist’, starting with the latest upload.

I don’t know yet whether that’s a WordPress or YouTube thing, or if it’s something I did, or didn’t do.
It does have the advantage that, if you want to see more of my videos, you don’t have to scroll all over the blog to do it.

So, in future, so as not to ‘spoil the surprise’ too much, I shan’t upload to YouTube until just before I want to embed it in the blog.

And, to save you scrolling down, here it is again.

Posted by: travelrat | November 17, 2014

Earl’s Garden and Fitzalan Chapel: Slide Show

Earl's Garden 1

Arundel Castle: 10th October 2014.

Once more, I’m letting Lorraine have today’s post, and showing off a gallery of her pictures taken in the Earl’s Garden and the Fitzalan Family Chapel.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted by: travelrat | November 14, 2014

Denbigh Castle


Denbigh: 24th September 2014.

As Ruthin’s name is a corruption of the Welsh for ‘Red Fort’, so it is with Denbigh, which is derived from a corruption of the Welsh for ‘Little Fort’.

In the 13th Century, this was a stronghold held by Daffydd ap Gruffyd, who we already met at Ruthin, against the English led by King Edward I. The current stone castle was built after the stronghold fell. Henry de Lacy was commissioned by the King to build it, and was also granted a Borough Charter to establish the surrounding town of Denbigh.

It hadn’t even been finished when it was captured and briefly occupied by Welsh rebels in 1294, but the rebellion collapsed the following year, and the castle was handed back to De Lacy.

In the 15th Century, the castle was besieged twice, but held out, first, against the rebels of Owain Glydwr then against the Lancastrians in the War of the Roses.

During the Civil War, the castle was held by Royalists for six months, before being captured by the Parliamentarians, who ‘slighted’ it to prevent further use. It has been in ruins ever since.

Denbigh Castle 1

Enough of the castle still remains to make an interesting visit, but, there’s a rather curious anachronism here. In one of the walls was a brown plaque, stating that the explorer Henry Morton Stanley ( John Rowlands) was born nearby. Now, at school, they taught us that he was American … and only a little research showed that school was wrong.

On the way here, I wondered what the statue in the town square, a man in a curious crouching position, was about. It was only when I saw the plaque I realised it was Stanley, bowing, and with hand outstretched to greet … Doctor Livingstone, I presume!

Denbigh Castle 2

Posted by: travelrat | November 12, 2014

Shenong Stream: Yangtze River

Shenong Stream 1_copy

Yangtze River: 13th May 2014

This morning, we were awakened by the squawking of a loudspeaker … at 6 a.m., from the ship moored alongside. There’s probably an ancient Chinese torture called ‘Death by Loudspeaker’, for it seems that life everywhere is ruled by announcements … even at mealtimes, telling us stuff that we already knew from the daily handouts anyway.

Even the guides sometimes carry portable loudspeakers; our excellent Linda gets extra points because she didn’t.
Today’s excursion was a sail up the Shenong Stream; a ‘stream’ no longer since the dam was built and the gorge flooded. So, it’s now possible to sail up the gorge.

Not in the Yangtze 2, though. It’s too big for that. We transferred to a ferry, which would have given some excellent views if not for the haze and mist. But, having said that, many Chinese paintings show misty scenes, so maybe it’s a common occurrence around here?

Shenong Stream 2_copy

We came ashore at a Cultural Centre … strictly speaking, below the centre, for we had several steps to negotiate to achieve it.
We watched a demonstration of music and dance, and strolled around the inevitable souvenir stalls that had been set up in the square.

In the centre of the square, dancers performed to a drummer thumping out a repetitive ‘boom boom CLANG; boom boom CLANG’

I expected the ghost of Freddie Mercury to appear at any minute, and start singing ‘We Will Rock You’!

CH Shenong Stream Cultural Centre_copy

Posted by: travelrat | November 10, 2014

The Earl’s Garden

Earl's Garden 2

Arundel Castle: 10th October 2014.

Arundel Castle has been on our ‘things to do’ list for some time. If you don’t want to see it all, you can, for instance, just buy a ticket for the gardens. But, if you’re a member of English Heritage or the National Trust, you can get a free ‘upgrade’ … that is, for instance, a ‘Gold Plus’ ticket to see everything, for the price of a ‘Gold’, which has some restrictions on it.

Even if you bought the lowest grade of ticket, just for the gardens, you’ll still have a good visit.

There’s a buggy to convey you around the grounds, if you wish, and the driver advised that, at this time of year, the Rose Garden is past its best. So, we gave that a miss, and saved it for another time.

However, a delight at any time of year is the ‘Earl’s Garden’, where plants and flowers from all over the world have been collected and arranged into secluded nooks, with many fountains, set against the backdrop of the Parish Church.

And, what a church! You could be forgiven for thinking it was a cathedral. Incorporated into this is the Fitzalan Family Chapel. That, again, is bigger than a lot of churches. It’s completely walled off from the rest of the church … not so the ‘hoi polloi’ couldn’t see the family at their devotions, but because they were Roman Catholics, at a time when practice of that faith was frowned upon.

Earl's Garden and Parish Church

Posted by: travelrat | November 7, 2014

The Pottery

Margaret Frith

Denbigh: 24th September 2014.

I had the thought that I could make some nice video of a potter working at her wheel. But, when I tried to turn my camcorder on … nothing happened; I’d forgotten to put it on charge the previous night. So, I muttered a few words concerning the perversity of inanimate objects (or words to that effect) and had to content myself with stills.

We had called in at the Brookhouse Pottery on the way to Denbigh. It’s an old woollen mill, which was later used as a brewery. David and Margaret Frith set up their workshop and gallery here in 1976, having already been potting in Denbigh since 1963.
Although I don’t pot myself, I am fascinated by it. I think it’s probably the oldest creative craft there is. We have some replicas of primitive pots in the Neolithic Houses at Stonehenge, and I think it goes back even further than that.

Nevertheless, how often do we take that humble cup which holds our morning coffee for granted? But, if you buy any of David and Margaret’s wares, you never will again.

Malthouse Gallery

The pottery stands on the banks of the River Ystrad, and, on both sides of it are the kilns in which the pots are fired. The clay, and the wood for these are also stored here, and everything is set in a beautiful garden.

Margaret said that, to make the pots, you need to get yourself into the right, relaxed frame of mind. You don’t do the best work when you’re angry or stressed. And, I think the garden goes a long way towards achieving the peaceful attitude necessary.

Brookhouse Pottery

Disclosure: I travelled as the guest of North Wales Tourism, but any opinions expressed are my own.

Posted by: travelrat | November 5, 2014

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam_copy

12th May 2014: Three Gorges Dam

In the afternoon, we went on the ‘included’ excursion, to the Three Gorges Dam. I’d already seen a couple of videos put out by the National Geographic Society … you can see one of them at … and was expecting great things. After all, the dam is massive enough to actually slow the earth’s rotation, thus lengthening the day by a fraction of a nanosecond.

Unfortunately, the kindest thing I can say about the excursion is that it’s three hours out of my life I’ll never get back. After a lot of up-and-down on escalators, the viewpoints provided don’t give the best view of the dam by any means, and it’s difficult to appreciate its size and grandeur from this angle.

There’s a better view of the ship lock, but, in a lock this size, watching a ship lock up or down, a process which takes about four hours, isn’t a really absorbing spectacle. However, the ‘ship lift’, which should be completed next year, will raise and lower vessels much more quickly, and might be more interesting to watch.I did get some good pictures later, when our ship went through the lock, and I was able to photograph the ship in front of us, festooned with lights.

Ship Lock_copy

In the evening, we had the Captain’s Reception, and here, I’m extremely grateful to Captain Yang, who just made a short speech of welcome, and wishes for a pleasant voyage. On earlier cruises, the Captain seemed to introduce everyone from the Boatswain upwards.

(Incidentally, his name, Yang Xue Tao, sounds a bit like ‘Yangtze 2’ to the careless ear. Coincidence?)

Another departure from the norm … our champagne glasses were kept topped up, instead of ‘one glass and that’s your lot!’ A finger buffet was also provided, but, with dinner imminent, I left that alone.

Captain Yang Xue Tao_copy

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