Posted by: travelrat | June 22, 2021

K for …


Since I profess to know something of aerodynamics, you’d think I should be fairly good at this. Not so; at least, not nearly as good as these guys.


Nothing really to say here … except ‘Aww!’

And, this week, a little bonus!

Posted by: travelrat | June 20, 2021


Someone told me about a couple of new features on YouTube. That set me to thinking:

‘I haven’t posted anything on YouTube for ages!’

That’s due to a number of circumstances, the main one being I haven’t been able to go anywhere to make any video. My last trip was to Portugal last September, and I didn’t take the GoPro. I’d had my usual day of ensuring all my devices and batteries were charged, and checking I was going to pack all the relevant chargers. But, something went wrong with the GoPro. Something went wrong with the socket into which the charging cable plugged.

The matter was easily dealt with … eventually; I just bought an external charger, which came with two spare batteries. But, I couldn’t do that right away; I was due to leave the following day.

However, my recently purchased Canon compact had a video feature on it, so I was able to make some footage on the Caves and Dolphins cruise. The pictures of the dolphins weren’t very good; they were too far away, really. And, as we went into the famous Benagil Cave … the battery died! I had a spare, but wasn’t really sufficiently hands-on with the new camera and had to fumble a bit to change it. By the time I’d got it working again, we were out of the cave.

(Moral: Start every day with a fresh battery, which you will have charged overnight)

Of course, everything’s working now. I’ve used the ‘down time’ caused by the lockdown to get really familiar with my gear. I just have to wait till restrictions are lifted some more, and I can go somewhere to use it.

Not much to see here; just keeping my hand in.

Posted by: travelrat | June 17, 2021

Kennet and Avon Canal

In 1990, the Queen came to Devizes to officially re-open the recently-restored Caen Flight Locks. For the first time in many years, the Kennet and Avon Canal became navigable for its entire length, from Hungerford in the East to Bradford-on-Avon in the West. Because of the long period of disuse, they used to call this canal the Sleeping Beauty. Now, once more, she was awake.

However, in very dry weather, the awakened beauty does tend to nod off from time to time. Water shortages have plagued the Kennet & Avon ever since work started  on it in 1794. The problem was, and still is, that the summit level, near the southern edge of the Savernake Forest, is only about three and a half miles long, and fed from only one stream. That’s not a lot of water, to service a 57 mile long canal with no fewer than 79 locks!

Not far inside Wiltshire’s Eastern border, though, stand the Crofton Beam Engines. These are massive Boulton & Watt steam pumps, which were intended to lift water to the upper levels of the canal. When in steam, they can raise a ton of water 40 feet every five seconds.

It may have been noted, incidentally, that I’m using the present tense. Although electric pumps are nowadays used to raise the water, the Crofton Engines are still in working order, and are occasionally steamed for visitors. The Tourist Information Centre in Marlborough should be able to tell you when.

About a mile southward along a footpath, an unlikely spin-off from the canal can be found. The demand for water for the Kennet & Avon was so great that several nearby water-mills were unable to function. So, in 1821, the Wilton Windmill was built. It was one of the very few windmills in Wiltshire, and is now the only one in the County still working.

The water levels weren’t the engineers’ only problem. About 10 miles to the West, the ‘navigators’, as they were known, came upon a very formidable obstacle. This took the form of Susannah, Lady Wroughton, the lady of Wilcot Manor, through whose land the canal had, of necessity, to pass.

But, Lady Wroughton’s terms were easily satisfied. She wanted an ornamental lake! So, the canal was widened to form the Wilcot Wide Water. This is a feature believed to be unique on the British canal system, and is a great favourite with local anglers and bird-watchers.

The Lady’s Bridge crosses the canal at the western end of the Wilcot Wide Water. And, naturally, it’s not one of those nasty, vulgar brick bridges used on the rest of the canal! Although now rather dilapidated, it was once an extremely elegant neo-classical affair, in decorated white stone.

More essential engineering, though, was needed back near the Savernake Forest. Here, the Bruce Tunnel was cut through the actual summit of the hill to be negotiated. The boats, normally horse-drawn, had to be manually hauled through the tunnel by means of chains fixed to the walls.

The horses, meanwhile, had a nice stroll over the summit by means of a horse-path which can still be traced today. Until only a few years ago, I could have recommended the beer-garden at the Savernake Forest Hotel, which lay at the Western end of the horse-path. Sadly, it’s a beer-garden no more ………. and the hotel is a hotel no more.

So, let’s stroll along the tow-path to Wootton Rivers. A westbound canal boat would have had to ‘lock-up’ to the top level before entering the tunnel. At Wootton Rivers, it will need to ‘lock-down’. That’s why canal boating doesn’t really appeal to me. It’s the only outdoor pursuit that I know of where going downhill is just as strenuous as going uphill!

But, nevertheless, canals, especially the Kennet & Avon still have an irresistible attraction for me.  As a photographer, and I’m always on the lookout for colour and atmosphere. Canals have it in plenty.

Posted by: travelrat | June 15, 2021

J for …


We saw this display of rather expensive bling at the Gold Suq in a Middle Eastern city. I think what impressed me most is how we could wander freely into the shops, and see no visible evidence of security


A great proportion of today’s commercial aircraft are powered by jet engines. Yet, it’s still only 25 years since their inventor, Sir Frank Whittle, died. Most of Whittle’s work was carried out in the 1920s and 1930s. The first ever jet aircraft flew in Germany in 1939; the Whittle-engined Gloster E28/39 two years later. By the end of WWII, combat jets were used by both the RAF and the Luftwaffe. The world’s first scheduled service by jet airliner was the De Havilland ‘Comet’ service to Johannesburg, which began in 1952. We have certainly come a long way since then … quite often, you don’t even know what type of aircraft you’re flying in till you’ve read the safety card in the seat pocket!

Posted by: travelrat | June 13, 2021

Aircraft Recognition

The other day, a question was asked on social media:

‘What was the first aircraft you ever flew in?’

For me, the first commercial flight was to the Isle of Man in a De Havilland ‘Dragon Rapide’ and my ‘first ever’ was just before that, as a 13 year old Air Cadet in an elderly RAF Avro ‘Anson’

Those, as they say, were the days! Aircraft recognition was the thing, and many people did it. These days, fewer people do it … although most airfields have a designated ‘spotters’ corner’. However, most spotters prefer to be called ‘aviation enthusiasts’.

I think the reason for the decline of the hobby is that … a lot of aircraft look alike. As early as 1965, I remember complaining how hard it was to differentiate between a Douglas DC8 and a  Boeing 707. Today, you often wouldn’t know what kind of aircraft you’re flying in until you read the safety card in the seat pocket.

Back in the day, though, you’d know immediately if you were about to board a ‘Stratocruiser’ or a ‘Constellation’. You’d recognise an Airspeed ‘Ambassador’ or a Vickers VC-10 straight away. You can still identify a 747 or an Airbus A380. But the rest are a confusing mix of various Airbuses and ‘Seven-something-Sevens’.

Some people even regard propeller-driven aircraft as ‘a bit of a novelty’, even though they’re often used for shorter flights. Someone once told me the sole purpose of a propeller is to keep the crew and passengers cool:

‘You want to see them sweat when it stops!!’  

Posted by: travelrat | June 10, 2021

The Seaton Tramway

In the post-war years, a new tram system was being born. Although tramways were being dismantled all over the United Kingdom, tram enthusiast Claude Lane, who owned a factory which made battery-electric milk floats, adapted his manufacturing techniques to build a scaled-down double-deck tram, to run on a 15-inch gauge track.

Lane’s miniature tram ran off batteries, and the minimum-gauge was easily portable. So, Lane was able to amortise some of the costs of building his miniature tram by exhibiting it at rallies, fairs and the like.

The tram proved so successful that Lane decided to set up a more permanent tramway and, in 1953, set up a short (2/3 of a mile) tramway at Eastbourne. This, like a full-sized tramway, was powered by mains electricity from an overhead cable, rather than pulling a battery in a trailer, as the ‘prototype’ tram did.

The new line was built to the two-foot gauge, which was used by many mining, quarrying and industrial railways – some of which survive as tourist attractions today. With the new gauge, adults could now ride the trams in relative comfort!

The cars were built at Lane’s factory in Barnet, and later, in the tramway’s own works at Eastbourne. The designs were based upon those of ‘full-sized’ tram-cars from all over the country, and many of them are still in service.

During the 1960s, planned development at Eastbourne began to threaten the operation of the line. Lane felt that its future would be better assured if it could be operated on its own freehold site. And, at that time, the infamous ‘Beeching Axe’ was making many redundant British Railways lines available.

In Devon, a particularly attractive stretch of former line was on offer. It ran along the banks of the estuary of the River Axe into the seaside resort of Seaton. Since the estuary is particularly rich in bird-life, this would be a further incentive for people to ride on the trams – indeed, they frequently run ‘bird-watchers’ specials’, but outside their normal operating hours, so the tram can stop if anything interesting is seen.

The new line would run about two miles, between Seaton and Colyton. It was thought that a broader gauge would be desirable, to allow for even greater passenger comfort, and it was decided that 2ft. 9in (believed to be unique) was the widest which would permit the 2 ft. gauge cars to be converted without the trucks protruding beyond the bodies. An additional bonus was that ‘real’ tram-cars, built for 3ft. 6in, and even standard gauge tracks could be obtained and converted.

But first, the existing cars, now numbering about half a dozen, needed to be brought from Eastbourne by road; a formidable task carried out almost entirely by Claude Lane and his assistant, Allan Gardner.

The service at Eastbourne had closed in late 1969, but enough track had been laid at Seaton by the end of August 1970 to run a limited service – towing a battery trailer, as the overhead mains cable had yet to be installed. The line reached the intermediate station at Colyford the following Spring, and, shortly afterwards, Claude Lane suffered a fatal heart attack.

By now, the little tramway had a hard core of enthusiasts, and work continued under the direction of the new General Manager, Allan Gardner. Colyton, the terminus, was reached in 1980, after re-laying a level crossing and building flood defences.

The line is single track, but trams can operate with a frequency of only ten minutes apart.  There are six passing loops along the route, where trams can wait until the opposing car has passed, the way being controlled by possession of a staff, supplemented by verbal messages from passing drivers.

There are many types of car in service, and the best ones suited to the weather conditions are brought out. There are single-deck, completely enclosed cars … many of these are cut-down full-scale trams; there are open-topped double-deckers, with the lower deck either open at the sides or fully enclosed and there’s one open single-decker, based on a popular design used at Blackpool. This, in my opinion, is the best one for photography. Sit on the right-hand side on the way back to Seaton to get the best pictures of oncoming trams in the passing loops.

In 2002, the English Tourism Council named the tramway as ‘Small Visitor Attraction of the Year’ for the South-Western Region. It’s not surprising – the ‘small visitors’ I took with me loved it!

The Seaton Tramway is about 20 miles east of Exeter … nearest railway station is Axminster (5 miles) Frequent buses from there.

Seaton Tramway, Harbour Road, Seaton, Devon EX12 2NQ. Tel: 01297 620375.

Posted by: travelrat | June 8, 2021

I for …


Totally the wrong time of year to be posting a picture like this … but, surprisingly, I couldn’t find many pictures of ‘things beginning with I’

Information Centre:

Usually, the first call when visiting somewhere new. This one is at the Mendenhall Glacier, in Alaska.

Posted by: travelrat | June 6, 2021


Does anyone send postcards any more?

Probably very few people; thanks to Instagram and suchlike social media, you can instantly tell those back at work what a great time you’re having, and what great sights you’re seeing. But, people still buy them; just check out the postcard rack at any souvenir shop.

I do, anyway … to check out what’s to see, and photograph, and maybe see what the iconic/clichéd views are, so I can try something different.

Some places; hotels, cruise ships and the like even give you postcards, probably on the outside chance you’ll send them to friends and family, thereby advertising their services.

It could be that scrapbooking is more widely practised than I thought, and those cards are going to see the inside of a scrapbook rather than a post box. That’s the main reason I buy them anyway … although I still occasionally get asked ‘Do you want stamps for them?’  And, I buy them, if they’re not too expensive, because they’re good scrapbook fodder too!

Posted by: travelrat | June 3, 2021

Stephenson and Cook

When the National Railway Museum in York started to run out of space, they began to look for places where they might open an ‘out-station’. They chose the redundant wagon-works at Shildon, near Darlington, where they opened their modern museum, Locomotion.

Shildon was already home to the Timothy Hackworth Collection, and this has been incorporated into Locomotion.

Timothy Hackworth was a railway pioneer, a contemporary of, and a friend, later to turn bitter rival of George Stephenson. It’s said that the rivalry began when Hackworth’s locomotive, Sans Pareil, failed to win the prestigious Rainhill Trials, owing to failure of Stephenson-supplied parts. As most railway historians know, the event was won by George Stephenson’s Rocket.

‘See that bridge over there’ said a museum employee, pointing out of the window ‘The centre span of that was the first railway bridge in the world!’

There’s a lot of ‘first in the worlds’ at Shildon, for it was here that Stephenson’s Locomotion first touched rails, having been brought down from Stephenson’s Newcastle factory, and assembled here. From Shildon, it went on to Darlington, to pick up the world’s first fare-paying passengers on a steam-hauled railway, to take them to Stockton, on the River Tees.

Contrary to popular belief, Stephenson didn’t ‘invent’ the railway. Horse and man-hauled wagonways had been in use in mines since mediaeval times. A ‘Dandy’, or horse-drawn railway had been carrying fare-paying passengers in South Wales for many years, and, in Cornwall, Richard Trevithick had been working mine railways with his own steam locomotives.

Stephenson just brought these concepts together.

We can follow the trail of Locomotion almost exactly by boarding a train at Shildon station to Darlington North Road. This is where Stephenson’s passengers boarded his train for the historic ride to Stockton … in spite of the fact that some people believed that the speed of the train (25 mph!) would suffocate all on board.

These days, Darlington North Road is just an unmanned halt on a branch line from Darlington Bank Top (the main station) to Bishop Auckland. But, it was once much more important, for that line, in its heyday, continued over the Pennines into Cumberland, to join the West Coast Line.

You can see memories of those days in the old station buildings, which now house the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum. Here, you can see memorabilia from the north-east’s railways over the years, pride of place going to an exhibition devoted to George Stephenson … and Stephenson’s original Locomotion!

The line to Stockton on Tees pretty well follows the route of that famous train journey, and at Stockton, we can visit an attraction devoted to another famous inhabitant of the area … James Cook.

Cook was born on Tees-side, at Marton. Nowadays, it’s a park in a suburb of Middlesbrough, but it houses the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, which stand over where the farm labourer’s cottage in which he was born once stood.

After a short while, the Cook family moved to Great Ayton. The cottage in which they lived stands in Fitzroy Park, Melbourne; it was taken away stone by stone some years ago. But, the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum is nearby.

At Stockton, there’s Cook’s first ship, the Endeavour! Not the original, of course … that’s believed to be at the bottom of Nantucket Sound. And, not the sea-going replica built in Fremantle, Australia. That’s usually to be found in southern waters. This is a steel-built, almost faithful replica … they had to omit a deck for health and safety reasons, and the gents’ toilet is in the ‘First Lieutenant’s cabin’.

It does, though, purport to give a good idea of what it might have been like on board during its voyage of exploration and we’re conducted round by the ‘voice’ … not of Cook, but of Robert Molyneaux, the Sailing Master. Cook himself … or rather, his waxwork … sits in solitary splendour in the Great Cabin. But, in reality, he had to share it with several ‘scientific gentlemen’ … and their specimens

Posted by: travelrat | June 1, 2021

H for …


I’ve often wished I could ride, without having to rely on 100% co-operation from the horse. But, just as good is riding in a horse-drawn vehicle … if someone else is driving, of course! These lovely boys are a Belgian and a Percheron, which took us around Stanley Park, in Vancouver.


We’ve stayed in many a hotel; some good, some not so good. But, I think the most luxurious we’ve stayed in so far was the Shahpura Palace, in Jaipur

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