Travel Shot: The longest grape vine in the world

What I love most about travel is the unexpected. I don’t mean the ‘discovering’ type of unexpected; I mean finding something you were not aware of before and in a place where you least expect it to be.

Take for instance, the trip I made to Hampton Court Palace (near London) in 2009. It was a beautiful summer’s day and I had arrived at Hampton Court Palace in style — by boat over the River Thames, much like how King Henry VIII would have. I spent a wonderful time at the Palace (actually they are 2 palaces, but that is a story for another post!), and wandered around its extensive grounds, tennis courts, privy and knot gardens, and what not, and nearly drained my camera battery with the number of photos I took. Just what I expected a palace in England to be like.

When I came across a rather nondescript looking glasshouse, I almost didn’t go in to explore. But then curiosity won, and I found myself in the presence of the world’s longest, and one of the world’s oldest, grape vine, also known as the Great Vine.

Longest Grape vine, Hampton Court Palace, England, UK, Great Vine

The Great Vine at Hampton Court Palace. If you look closely you can see the vine laden with grapes.

The Great Vine was planted in 1769 on the site of the first glasshouse built in the Hampton Court Palace; today, the Vine has filled up the entire glasshouse. A lot of care is taken to protect the Great Vine from encroachment by other plants, as well as from disease. Only organic manure/fertiliser is used and the Vine is protected from mildew by vaporising sulphur using small electrically operated vaporisers suspended amongst the plant’s branches.

Even after more than 2 centuries, the Vine still produces grapes. According to the official website,

the average crop of black dessert grapes is about 272 kilograms… The grapes are … sold during the first three weeks of September.

I had visited Hampton Court Palace in late July when the Great Vine was laden with plump grapes and were due to be picked in a month’s time. I love grapes and wished I could have tasted them, though I doubt if I would have been able to afford them. Still, that didn’t stop me from imagining what they would have tasted like — juicy, sweet, and just a little sour. Just as I like my grapes.

PS: Apologies for the photograph quality; this one is from my pre-blogging days :-P

Travel Shot: The Mechanical Clock

The gentle whirring and the polite clicking sounds coming from the… contraption was fascinating. What is it, I wondered, as I walked around it. What were the ropes for, ropes that ascended to the ceiling? And the slowly moving wheels? And why was it cordoned off with a “Please do not touch” sign?

That July afternoon of 2009, I was at Salisbury Cathedral wondering what this contraption was all. A simple information plaque on one side enlightened me and I did a double take when I read it. This… contraption was a clock? A clock without a face? And that too 700 years old?

The Mechanical Clock. One of the stone weights can be seen hanging on the left, behind the clock. Note the ropes going out of the frame of this  photo—these are attached to a bell, which strike at the hour every hour.

I was standing before the oldest Mechanical Clock in Europe. There are even claims to this being the oldest working mechanical clock in the world. Dating back to 1386, this clock was re-discovered in the Cathedral in 1928 and restored back to working condition in 1956. Most of the parts of the clock are original as is its wrought iron frame.

A single-strike clock, i.e. it makes one strike for every hour of the day, the power to run it is supplied by two large stone weights. As the weights descend, ropes (which are attached to a bell) unwind from the wooden barrels. Before the weights reach the floor, they have to be wound back up again. For more technical details on the working of the clock, please click here.

Though the Salisbury Cathedral had many other attractions on offer—an impressive 400 feet tall spire and an original copy of the Magna Carta, among others—it is the simple (?) mechanical clock that remains with me after 3 years. A clock that works even today after so many centuries and is accurate to within 2 minutes.

Not bad for a 700-year old clock, eh? :-)

PS: For more photographs of Salisbury, please click here.

Travel Shot: A view of Greenwich from the river Thames

Sometimes, it takes a larger view for things to fall into perspective. Literally. Viewing the former Royal Naval College in Greenwich (pronounced Gren-itch) from across the Thames was one such experience.

I had spent a lovely day spent at Greenwich as part of a guided walk through Maritime Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest to me were the two buildings of the former Royal Naval College, which was designed by Christopher Wren, and captured by the famous Italian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto. Throughout my explorations there, I kept searching for that one view that captured the beauty, simplicity and symmetry of Wren’s design, but in vain.

It wasn’t till I crossed the river Thames to the opposite bank to take the DLR back to London that I realised that I had been searching for Canaletto’s view from the wrong side. When I emerged from the underground foot tunnel, this was the beautiful sight that greeted me.

A view of the former Royal Naval College, Greenwich, from the River Thames

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The Docklands Light Railway and the London Docklands

The London Docklands is the name given to some areas of eastern and south-eastern London. Till the middle of the 20th century, the Docklands was where the various docks and dockyards used to be. Though the docks were originally built and managed by a number of private companies (for example, East India, West India, etc.), it was not till 1909 that it all came under the management of the Port of London Authority.

Redeveloped London Docklands near Canary Wharf. For those used to seeing a predominantly Georgian London, this view of the city can come as a bit of a surprise !

Today, the area is a mix of the commercial and the residential, and old housing estates and newer steel and glass structures as a result of massive efforts at redevelopment of an area that used to be predominantly labour class. The introduction of the Docklands Light Railway or DLR in 1987 fulled the development of an area that did not have good transport connectivity. The Docklands area has always been a trade hub for centuries; today, it is a hub of a different kind—the central business district of London is located here.

Tower Gateway DLR Station

The DLR is a fully automated light metro or light rail system to exclusively serve the Docklands area of London. It is quite distinct from the London Underground, and is also part of Transport for London. During my year’s stay in London in 2008–2009, I remained ignorant of the DLR largely because the Tube Bus took care of most of my travel requirements and I rarely travelled to the Docklands area.

Then one day, while returning to Central London from a day trip to Greenwich, the DLR turned out to be the most convenient mode of travel, and to use a clichéd term, travel was never the same again. It is a trip that I still remember, as a very different London emerged through that journey, very distinct from the Victorian and Georgian London that I had come to associate London with and love.

Such was my fascination for the DLR, that on one rainy and cloudy day, I spent a few hours travelling by the DLR, getting off at stations that caught my fancy and exploring the Docklands area on foot. I saw a very different London that day. A quieter London, steel and glass apartments, residences converted from warehouses, an airport by the river, colourful buildings, and so much more.

Presenting a sampling from that lovely day of a very different London courtesy the DLR journey that I took in July 2009 ! :-)

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Travel Shot: The milk can and the gargoyle

During a day trip to the Cotswolds region in England in August 2009, our tour group stopped for some refreshments at The Old Mill in a village called Lower Slaughter. This arrangement at the entrance to the mill-cum-tea room-cum-ice cream shop-cum-souvenir shop caught my eye.

The Milk Can and the Gargoyle. This is what came to my mind instantly on seeing the arrangement.

What do you think the gargoyle’s thinking? Do you think he hates ice-cream and would rather have a barrel of beer there. My imagination then took over and I thought of a pub named “The Milk Can and the Gargoyle”. And then dismissed the thought instantly, even though English pubs have weird and wonderful names (you can read more about it in one of my earlier posts here), they will not go for the word ‘milk’ for the name of a pub. It defeats the entire purpose, don’t you think so?

But, back to my question. What is the gargoyle thinking?

PS: I had the best ice-cream I have ever had in my life here—some creamy, organic, hand churned butter nut ice-cream. If you ever visit this place, do have some on my behalf and do say hiya to the gargoyle for me. :-D

When paintings came to life… A visit to Constable Country

Every place that I have travelled to has been memorable for different reasons. Some of the places have had a mythological significance attached to them, others have had historical reasons and still others have been memorable for literary reasons. Each of these visits have been memorable as they saw my imagination of the written word I had read or the oral narratives heard about these places come alive. Then there have been places that have made an impact on me visually through photographs, paintings and movies. And again, seeing them come to life when I visited some of the places has been memorable. But none have been as memorable as a visit to Constable Country, the place that inspired one of the greatest painters of English landscapes—John Constable.

John Constable (1776-1837) was born in East Bergholt in the Suffolk region of England. He was brought up in the countryside and his deep love for the local landscape led him to record its beauty, its light, its atmosphere, its colours and its textures in his paintings. Though Constable’s genius is acknowledged throughout the world today, in his own lifetime he struggled for recognition as landscape painting was considered unfashionable. He was more acclaimed in France and sold more paintings there than in England, whose rural landscape he loved so much. Indeed, he had this to say to a friend:

I should paint my own places best, painting is but another word for feeling.

He received recognition in England only about 8 years before his death and the countryside that he made so famous through his paintings came to be known as Constable Country.  Every stile, every tree, the fields, the river Stour, the watermills, the cornfields… found an expression in his paintings.

The Hay Wain (1821) by John Constable

I saw a John Constable painting for the first time on the cover of a book on the life and times of the artist. The painting was a detail from The Hay Wain (see picture on the left), which is considered to be Constable’s masterpiece. What attracted me to painting was the detail and the different textures visible in spite of the scaled down size of the painting in the book. I bought the book, read it from cover to cover, feasted on the paintings and added Constable Country to the list of places I wanted to visit. This was in 1994 and I had to wait for 15 years for that wish to realise.

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