17 January 2016

Cardiff: Welcoming doors

One of the loveliest aspects of Cardiff’s old Victorian and Edwardian houses is their entranceways.

The doors are frequently painted in vibrant reds, blues and greens, and they often have unusual-shaped windows inset into their upper sections, some of which are filled with plain glass, others with prettily patterned stained glass designs. It is also common to see panels of decorated tiles on either side of the doors, often with Art Deco-style patterns fired into them. Many doors feature rectangular or arched windows above and at the sides, to allow light to filter into the hallway beyond, and some of the older entranceways still retain the charming wrought-iron and glass porches that help protect those entering and exiting the house from inclement weather.

Where they have survived the ravages of time and foot traffic, some of the pavements leading up to the doorways are tiled in colourful geometric designs. Many of these tiles and designs were from the factory of J. C. Edwards & Co of Ruabon, a town in North Wales famous for its clay and terracotta ware, and you can see a page of tessellated and encaustic tile designs from an Edwards catalogue to the right here. Ruabon’s clay manufacturing was so well esteemed that the town was, at one time, affectionately known as ‘Terracottapolis’. (There will be more on J. C. Edwards and his terracotta products in a future blog.)

Sadly, not every entranceway looks as lovely as those shown here. Some house-owners have removed the lovely old doors and replaced them with double-glazed plastic monstrosities, practical perhaps but often exceedingly ugly. Wrought-iron porches have crumbled and been dismantled, tile panels have been painted over, and pavements have been replaced with dreary grey paving slabs.

This blog is intended as a pictorial celebration of how beautiful these architectural features can be, and a shout out to all those wonderful home-owners who value and care for these historic treasures.

10 January 2016

From Cardiff to the South Pole: Robert Falcon Scott

Robert Falcon Scott,
 from Wikipedia commons

It always struck me as odd that Roath Park Lake in Cardiff had a lighthouse in it, until I read the plaque:

To the memory of Captain R.F. Scott C.V.O., D.S.O., R.N. and his faithful companions Captain L.E.G. Oates, Lieut. H.R. Bowers R.I.M., Dr E.A. Wilson, and Petty Officer Edgar Evans R.N. who sailed in the S.S. Terra Nova from the port of Cardiff June 15th 1910, to locate the South Pole; and, in pursuit of that great and successful scientific task, laid down their lives in the Antarctic regions. March 1912. Britons all and very gallant gentlemen. Erected and presented to the City of Cardiff by F.C. Bowring Esq., J.P. 1915.

Most people are familiar with Scott’s sad tale, I think: after an heroic struggle, he and his team reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912 only to discover that the Norwegian team, led by Roald Admunsen, had beaten them to their goal and then, on their 1500km return journey across the ice, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of hunger and the extreme conditions. What you may not realise is Cardiff’s connection to the story.

SS Terra Nova, Evening Express, 13 October 1910
Cardiff was Scott and his team’s UK departure point for the expedition. They arrived at Roath Basin in Cardiff docklands, aboard their whaling ship the SS Terra Nova, on 10 June 1910 to complete their final preparations for the voyage, and the folk of Cardiff did them proud. According to information from the Welsh National Museum website,

300 tons of Crown Patent Fuel, 100 tons of steam coal and 500 gallons of engine and lamp oil were donated by Welsh coal companies. All the cooking utensils were given by the Welsh Tin Plate Company of Llanelli and even Scott's sleeping bag was bought with funds raised by the County School in Cardigan. In addition to support in kind, a further £2,500 was raised in Cardiff, more than from any other city.

In fact, local supporters were so generous that Scott named Cardiff the Terra Nova’s home port and it was to this city that the ill-fated expedition returned on 14 June 1913, almost three years to the day after its departure.

Photograph taken at the South Pole by Henry Bowers (using a piece of string to operate the camera shutter). From left to right: Oates, Bowers and Wilson (both seated), Scott and Evans. Photograph from Leonard Huxley (ed.), 'The Return from the Pole' in Scott's Last Expedition, Volume 1, Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1913.

The connection with Cardiff arose through E.R.G.R. (Teddy) Evans, a young navy Lieutenant who had initially planned his own Antarctic expedition but eventually joined Scott as his second-in-command and captain of the Terra Nova. Evans brought with him the backing of William Davies, influential editor of the Western Mail newspaper, as well as the financial support of leading Cardiff ship-owners William Tatem and Daniel Radcliffe. Evans also convinced fellow Welshman David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, to provide the sizable sum of £20,000 in government support. Evans went on to a highly successful naval career, and was recognised for his achievements by his elevation to the peerage: he became 1st Baron Mountevans in 1945.

Edgar Evans, Cambria Daily Leader, 11 February 1913
Obviously then, he was not the Evans who died with Scott on their return journey from the South Pole. That was another Welshman, Edgar Evans, the expedition’s Chief Petty Officer. Edgar Evans first met Scott when he began his naval service aboard the HMS Majestic in 1899 – Scott was then serving as a torpedo lieutenant on the same ship – and Evans travelled with Scott on his earlier polar expedition in 1901-4, so he was a logical choice to join the Terra Nova expedition. It seems he was a bit of a character, nearly missing the Terra Nova’s departure south from New Zealand because he was drunk and fell into the water when trying to board the ship. Sadly, he was the first to die on the return journey from the South Pole.

Cardiff’s connection with Scott and the Terra Nova expedition are commemorated in many places around the city. As well as the lighthouse and a garden memorial at Roath Park Lake (the cafĂ© nearby is also called Terra Nova), there is a sculpture in Cardiff Bay, depicting Scott and the faces of the four men who died with him, and a large outdoor exhibition providing interesting photos and information about the expedition. 

There is even a Captain Scott Society, which meets annually to ‘commemorate the association of the City with Scott's last expedition and to encourage the spirit of adventure that he inspired’. Now that’s an aim I can heartily endorse!  

Scott Memorial sculpture, at Cardiff Bay

The sails in the background mark the site of the Scott exhibition, Cardiff Bay

03 January 2016

2015: a life-changing year

I started 2015 in England, finished it in Wales, and in between there were New Zealand, the United States and Nicaragua – an interesting year, to say the least, and a life-changing one for me!

My lovely friend Sarah was kind enough to let me board with her during the six months I spent in Cheshire and we enjoyed some lovely days out together. This was one of them: a long walk beside the River Weaver to Dutton Locks, followed by lunch at a riverside pub. (You can see more photos here.)

My favourite thing about living in Wincham, in Cheshire, was the range of places I could easily walk to and I quickly developed some favourite circular routes that took me around lakes and alongside a canal, across fields and over streams, through woodlands and along a lime avenue. This long lime avenue was one of my favourite places, for the trees, for the daffodils in the springtime, for the way its character changed with the seasons. (Great Budworth’s lime avenue features in two blogs, this one about lime avenues and this photo blog showing the changing seasons.)

Once I had made the big decision to relocate to Britain, I headed back to New Zealand to sell my apartment,  pack up all my worldly possessions, and say goodbye to my fabulous friends and favourite places. One of the best things about my apartment in Auckland city was the view and I will never forget these amazing sunrises. (More of these stunning scenes here.)  

This is the quintessential Auckland to me, with the easily recognisable harbour bridge in the background, just a few of the huge wealth of boats lined up at Westhaven Marina, bright blue skies and a cabbage tree (Cordyline australis), albeit a cultivar, in the foreground. A walk around the harbour side and coastal beaches is always good value. (Here’s a walk I always enjoyed.)  

And so it was farewell Auckland, hello Wisconsin, for a far-too-short week-long visit with my wonderful friend Trudey and her equally wonderful husband Roy. And what an incredible week it was, with road trips across the state to visit family, to Washington Island with a group of Trudey’s lovely women friends, and a fun day out at the Bristol Renaissance Fair, plus many delightful hours spent watching these juvenile Bald Eagles. As I’m a keen birder, these were very special times for me.

Next stop, a three-day visit to Chicago, a city I’ve always wanted to visit. It was superb. I cruised on the river, walked miles, caught up with fellow photographer and internet friend Lauri … and so much more. I loved this amazing city. I must go back!

From Chicago to Granada, in Nicaragua, for a week of photography, in workshops organised by the great team at The Giving Lens, helping to mentor these incredibly talented young adults from Empowerment International, a charitable organisation that helps the impoverished children of Nicaragua achieve a better future for themselves. It was an unforgettable week of making new friends; enjoying beautiful scenery and amazing experiences; of learning and giving back; of laughter and smiles and tears. (You can see a selection of my photographs here.)   

When I arrived in Britain, I stopped over briefly in London – always a treat and always so much to see and explore. Though it was unplanned, this time I spent hours walking in London’s wonderful and enormous inner-city parks.

Cardiff is my new home, at least for now. It's a beautiful city, close to the sea, not far from the mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park, and with amazing parks; it has a castle and is chock-a-block full of history; it has all the conveniences of big-city living yet has the friendliness of a small town. The photo shows Roath Park lake, just ten minutes’ walk from where I’m living.

In September I had a delightful visit back with Sarah in Cheshire, partly to catch up and partly to collect a suitcase full of winter woollies I had left with her. We had a couple of great days out, to the mighty Beeston Castle with its panoramic countryside views, and a day at the seaside at Formby Sands and Southport.

Back in Cardiff, I enjoyed the halcyon days of a long Indian summer and then the incredible beauty of autumn, with daily walks to enjoy the ever-changing colours of the beautiful British trees, dressed in their autumn finery.    

Discovering the good places to birdwatch in and around Cardiff has been great fun. The huge variety of birds here is a constant delight, and I seem to see something new every week, but it’s the charming little robin that is my particular favourite. That flash of red breast on a grey wintery day, its pretty little song, and its friendliness are a constant source of joy.