Saturday, 31 December 2011

The last of - the year

So – goodbye to 2011. It won’t be mourned much, but at least those who read this post will have survived it…

Friday, 30 December 2011

Gothic abbey scene

These wintry days create some (literally) Gothic looks. The ruins of the medieval Croxden Abbey in east Staffordshire near Hollington are ideal for a good 'horror' photo, especially as light is falling (which it does around now at 4.00pm).

Croxden is a great set of ruins incidentally.
In the middle of a large tract of open country, one can just walk on to the site easily, as, even though it's owned by English Heritage, it is open for members of the public to access freely.

Link: Croxden Abbey

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Longton Spitfire

The Spitfire plane saw its 75th anniversary in 2011.  There was supposed to be a series of celebrations across the year in north Staffordshire - mostly because the inventor of the Spitfire, RJ Mitchell, was born in Talke, near Newcastle-under-Lyme.
However, the celebrations never really took off in number.

There are a number of already-established monuments though. This mural in the shopping centre in Longton is one.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Hair dying among the comics

It's always pretty colourful in the Forbidden Planet comic book shop - but Leigh (the upstairs assistant) never fails to add even more vibrancy with her multi-shaded hair. In this photo, her hair is fairly muted; it's usually even more varied. Still, green, blue, yellow, red and turquoise is enough to be going on with for the Christmas shift.

The shop (in Hanley) has two floors of comic books, graphic novels, anime and associated product. There's something for all - even cheapoes like me who buy the 50p back-issue comics.

Link: Forbidden Planet

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Beech bridge

I’m a fan of bridges.. of any sort really, even motorway underpasses.  It’s something about the tunnel effect (passing from one world to another), and also the different perspectives caused by the two levels, one looking down from above and one looking up from below. I wonder if this is something Freudian about me. Er-hem.

Anyway, whenever I hear Robert Frost’s poem which starts Something there is that doesn't love a wall, I sometimes think – yes, but no-one can dislike bridges, surely?
Especially bridges like this one – with age and character. It's on the country lane leading down to Beech Caves, at Beech.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Kinver's rock houses

The Kinver Rock Houses are just one of the sights you’ll see if you walk along Kinver Edge – a great walk after any heavy Christmas.  The ridge runs high over the surrounding land and has terrific views, though I’d check wind-speed before venturing along there!

As for the rock houses, which are built into the hillside, they were lived in until the 1950s – believe it or not - and now they are managed by the National Trust.

Link:  Kinver Edge & Rock Houses

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Nadolig Llawen

Nadolig Llawen is ‘Merry Christmas’ in Welsh.

But whatever your language is -  A Happy Christmas to You All!

(Why a Welsh sign in Staffordshre?
A number of Welsh people moved to Staffordshire – as did Geordies and Poles – seeking work in the local coal-mines.Some stayed, even when the last mines closed – as this Christmas light on the side of a house in Blythe Bridge shows.)

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Garrick Theatre

The Garrick Theatre in Lichfield was purpose built, and the authorities are said to be very proud of it, but it’s a building that’s never quite endeared itself to me. I guess it doesn’t ‘think’ like a theatre to me; it seems a bit too much like offices.

Anyway, it always does a decent pantomime (I’m a sucker for pantomime) – A Christmas Carol is playing right now, and it's incredibly hard to get tickets with most nights a sell-out.

Link: Garrick Theatre

Friday, 23 December 2011

Frosty cross

The mild autumn has turned into a blowy, drizzly… and now frosty… December.

This churchyard cross at the wonderful Norman church in Tutbury shows not just the frost on the spider-web, but the collection of victims gathered by its resident arachnid.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Death in the wood

You see the General Martin monument as you walk through the countryside around Gibridding Wood (near Hawksmoor). It's a lonely little monument, which sits on the side of a hillock opposite the wood itself.

It was erected in the late nineteenth century as a tribute to a Major-General Alfred Martin, who was killed when he fell from his horse while out riding at this spot on New Year's Eve 1892..

At one point it stood on its own, but now it has this fence built around it - to protect it form vandals I suppose - which spoils it slightly as the inscription is now very hard to read.

It’s an object of real interest locally, and there will be a talk on it given at a meeting of the Cheadle & District Historical Society next April.
I’m pretty sure the room will be full that night.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Ship Inn & South Pole

The polar story of The Ship Inn (at Wincle) seems a good one to tell in this present wintry weather.

The ship on this pub-sign is not just any ol' ship but The Nimrod, which carried Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole in 1907-9. The group included the young Sir Philip Brocklehurst, who was from nearby Swythamley Hall.
The expedition, sadly, had to turn back just 100 miles from the Pole, and Philip was badly frost-bitten, but it was clearly an experience which stayed with him.
And that explains the pub-sign!

Link:  Brocklehurst at the South Pole / Ship Inn, Wincle

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Sally Army do Christmas

I’m a fan of The Salvation Army. 
Ever since I saw at close-hand the unrewarded work they do on the streets with the down-and-out, I am full of admiration. They did it without fuss, without pushy religiosity, and with real compassion.

And – as for the sound of a Sally Army brass band playing carols (like this one in Meir)… well, nothing can be more cheering than that, as we come up to Christmas!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Steady snowman

The snow is fading now, but it has been thick enough – and crunchy enough – to make great snowballs, to go sledding, and, of course, to build snowmen.
This plucky little fellow was remaining steady, despite the growing thaw around him.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Duties in the snow

The snow came back overnight, with a fresh fall to thicken the previous, wilting layer.

It was fairly cold early on, so I was surprised and touched to see this couple out in the morning at Wetley Rocks churchyard. They were determined to tend a loved one's grave out there, and no snow or freezing cold was going to put them off.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Snow sticking

The snow is sticking in certain sheltered places, such as this woodland edge near Okeover.

Once again, thank goodness for the Ramblers’ Association, the group that is nearly always the one that maintains platforms like this one. Walking across this piece of boggy ground would be a wet and cold experience at this time of year without it – no matter how brilliant your boots.

Friday, 16 December 2011

First snow of the year

First snow of the year… We’ve had a few gusts of sleet, but this was the first that stuck. The tips of the hills look great, but a shot up-close tells the story better, huh?

This is the arbour at the Dorothy Clive Garden at Willoughbridge.

Link:  Dorothy Clive Garden

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Stafford Knot - on a mug

The Stafford Knot is the symbol of Staffordshire, but strangely you won’t see it on many decorative items. It’s mostly used as an official logo on government property.

So, I was charmed to see this mug, with a Stafford Knot embossed on it, in squeezed up against the window in a carpenter’s shop. Sadly, it was buried under a huge lot of unsorted items, and it was too difficult to reach (yes, I did ask him if I could buy it, even though he was very surprised to be asked).

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Cupcake Christmas

What is this current fad for cupcakes? It seems to me that there has been a minor craze – you get cupcake ceramics, cupcake-themed woollens, cupcake decorations, and, er, real cupcakes. To eat.
I even saw a burlesque show with cupcakes. That was odd.

And now, cupcake Christmas-tree balls - as observed in a tea-room in Uttoxeter.

I don’t even like cupcakes.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Dark lake

Aqualate Mere is (I'm told) the largest natural lake in the Midlands. It's near the village of Forton, not far from the Shropshire border.
It's a quiet place, a nature reserve, which includes the large wood around the lake, and is a lot used by bird-watchers and walkers.

It's a good place to see the seasons change.

Link: Aqualate Mere

Monday, 12 December 2011

Imprisoned nativity

This nativity scene seems oddly poignant, placed as it is, behind a plastic screen and some bars. I guess the screen protects it from vandals; it’s placed right in middle of the town centre at Cheadle.

The ‘bars’ are the railings that ring the small garden space here, but they seem to make their own, rather affecting, political comment.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Abandoned 'ramparts'

These 'raddlepits' rise like grim, abandoned castle walls out of a ridge near Wootton in the Weaver Hills in east Staffordshire. Up there, I only saw sheep and what appeared to be semi-wild horses, so these ruins are not visited much.

In fact, they are what remains of the lead mines hereabout; I guess that they are giant kilns built into the hillside over deep shafts.

The term raddlepit is used also at a Derbyshire lead-mine, so I thought a raddle-pit might actually be a denotation for a lead mine, but I haven't yet found any evidence of that.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Locomotive pub

The Locomotive Pub's sign (at Heron Cross in Stoke-on-Trent) reminds one that the nearby rail-line once had a station here.  Now of course, the rail-line is a high-speed inter-city track, surrounded by high walls, and you'd never know that once local trains stopped near this point.

I really like the sign though. It's really been creatively designed - despite the loose lettering...

Friday, 9 December 2011

Skull & crossbones

The skull-and-crossbones is one of the favourite flags of convenience flown by canal boat owners on local waterways. I spotted this one near Penkridge.
I presume it means that all boarders will be repelled with force…!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The oatcake lives on

When oatcake shops disappear, then we shall really know that an era has finished. For now though, there are a few left in Staffordshire.

The traditional Staffordshire-oatcake is a savoury pancake style wrap for grilled bacon & cheese. The oatcakes (without fillings) are made at specific shops, which are usually open only Thursday to Sunday morning, working through the night to supply demand.

The humble oatcake has sustained many a local working-class diet for hundreds of years. One can imagine workers - many of them women - pouring out of this adjacent old textile factory in Leek, and picking up the fresh oatcakes on their way home.
And, they must be eaten fresh. They are fairly horrible even a day later.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Puzzled plants

The weirdly mild weather has confused some plants. For example, the local newspaper is reporting that some daffodils are already shooting (...well, news is slim at the moment!).

At Draycott Plant Nurseries, Carolyn and Neil were checking out these two plants, a euphorbia and a hebe, which, similarly, were puzzled by the weather and keep budding.

The horticulturalists say that it only needs one good frost and – all will change. But, still, it’s odd while it lasts.

Link: Draycott Plant Nurseries

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Spooky rail conductress

This rather spooky lady turns out to be a mannequin, though she does seem to have a very fine head of hair for a railway conductor. She's one of the exhibits at the small museum of artefacts at the Foxfield Heritage Railway site near Blythe Bridge.

It's a fun little museum, composed mostly of local records and pieces, and I guess a real railway enthusiast could spend a happy hour here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Tribal images

If you've got a tattoo studio - flaunt it! At least, that seems to eb the motto of Tribal Images, a tattoo parlour in Hanley.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Egypt comes to Cheadle

Cheadle had its fun-day - when the Christmas lights were switched on, and charity stalls were set up.

I saw this little funfair-ride being set up in the car-park. It brought an unusual sense of exotica to the town.

Isn't it strange how Egypt and Egyptology still cuts it with show people?   Hmm.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Quiet woman

It doesn't come more male-chauvinist than this, does it? This pub-sign implies that the only really quiet woman is one who has had her head cut off - though it's (jokily) suggesting that the name just might refer to a type of headless ghost one often reads about.

But... the pub has been there (in Leek) for years.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Winter smoke

There has been a quarry at Cauldon Low for years and years - you wouldn't think the land had so much to give. At one time it was limestone, now they want the 'aggregates' (for road-building mostly).

In winter, this lonely part of the moorlands - there can only be a dozen houses or so - is fairly grim, and the quarry's smoking stack is the only sign of life.
Yet, it does have one major attraction: it has one of the most unusual pubs - the Yew Tree - in the county, and possibly the country.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Bell tolls on AIDS Day

The 'Staffordshire Buddies' group works specifically for those living with HIV in the county, and was behind today's marking of World AIDS Day locally.

At Keele University, the students sold cup-cakes and collected donations - but what was very affecting was theat the bell in the chapel (the building behind the stall) tolled on the hour every hour.

Link: Staffordshire Buddies

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Silver-white for Christmas

Leek's Christmas lights display seems to be one of the best I've seen this year. They have kept it simple - just decorations, and no flashing reindeer (thank Goodness)!

The organisers have made a decision to keep the lights this silvery-white colour, which I approve of. Red and green combos, and cosy oranges are of course attractive and seasonal - but silver-white, the colour of frost, is still my favourite shade of the season.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Autumn tree

The extraordinary autumn has produced a real feast of colour, and it’s hard to stop snapping away.

Still, I felt I had to photograph this tree at Froghall.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Elizabethan house collapsing

Sinai Park House looks like it’s falling down in this picture. In fact, that’s only half the truth – yes, it’s in a pretty bad state (and one set of eaves, to the left in this picture, did indeed recently collapse), but it’s a lot better than it was. In fact, the wing you see on the right is now lived-in, following some hard-worked restoration.

The fact is that the couple who bought it are putting their life and savings into putting it back into some kind of shape – but it’s tough going for them. Despite being Grade II listed, and five hundred years old, and in a brilliant location overlooking the Trent valley, help has not always been there for this lovely manor-house (which is located near Burton).
At one point, it was used as a barn for livestock…

It’s not open to the public yet, but there are occasional tours – often for ghost-hunting groups. The house is stuffed with ghosts apparently.

Link: Sinai Park House   /  Staffordshire Paranormal Group visits Sinai Park House

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Hedgehog parking

Yes, I did a double-take at this sign too, which stands in the yard outside the Rock House Cottages (in Foxt).
I had visions of small hedgehogs lining up their carriages here.

And then the penny dropped. These are holiday cottages, each cottage quaintly named after a species of the local wildlife, including Badger, Dormouse… and Hedgehog.

Link: Rock House Farm Cottages

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advertising sign looks back to Spratts

These old tin advertisement-signs are disappearing now; and you’re more likely to see one in a curio shop than you are up on a wall anymore. So this one is pretty rare!

At one time, Spratts was THE big name in animal food. They were the original makers of ‘Bonio’, an odd, bone-shaped, amazingly popular biscuit for dogs.

Curiously, this sign remains only where it is because it is aligned to a pet-shop - that is still trading from this same spot in the West End of Stoke after all these many years.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Blood red waters

It looks as though blood from a battlefield is being washed away in this stream, but the fact is that the waters around Kidsgrove all go this orange-red colour. It’s due to the iron workings locally, and water is sifting the particles through the ground.

Sometimes the colour can turn a very thick vermilion, particularly near the Harecastle Tunnel on the local canal – and unwary trippers coming through on their narrowboats can look quite apprehensive!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Saracenic in Stoke

It looks proudly like the sort of Indo-Saracenic architecture made in British India. This building rises coolly above its rather ugly surroundings in Stoke town centre.
I always am thankful to see it – Stoke town needs this spot of glamour in it, it really does.

In fact, it is (I think) the former Co-Operative store; and is now a set of business offices.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Comic kissing gate

You can’t help but laugh on seeing this little kissing-gate. It is all alone in the field – no fence either side of it – yet, strangely, the sign on it encourages ramblers to pass through it..

It reminds me of the very funny scene in the spoof cowboy film Blazing Saddles, where the good guys erect a toll-gate in the middle of the desert plain – the cunning plan being to slow down the bad guys who are galloping towards them…
Sure enough, the bad guys (who are stupid, thus proving they are bad) queue up at this toll-gate in the middle of nowhere, additionally swearing and cussing when they realise they have to use ‘correct change’. 
The scene is surreal, very funny, and – now I see – imitates real life!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Alien gates

I’m not sure I much like these school gates at Waterside Primary in Hanley.  There’s something very cold and prison-like about them, and the thin, weedy structures coming out the top of them resemble nothing so much (to me) as alien antennae or unfriendly CCTV.

I haven’t been able to find out the symbolism yet, though the school is called Waterside because it is next to the canal, and it prides itself on an environmentally-friendly policy. I guess the wave-forms could symbolise water…

Anyway, I pity the poor children who have to go through them every day.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Auburn autumn

Another autumn spectacular at Cannock Chase!
I know it looks as though I’ve dabbled with this picture in Photoshop, but this is just how it came out. It was just before sunset, so the light was that special colour already.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Chorlton Mill

This is the closest you’ll get to Chorlton Mill. This fifteenth century water mill - at Stableford, which is in north Staffordshire - is now largely hidden from public view, being absorbed now into a private house’s property.
But you can still see it from the public footpath.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The rail carriage that never moves

When you eat at the Spot Gate Inn, near Stone, they say you “eat the old-fashioned way” for the restaurant dining area consists of two original Pullman railway carriages sited in the pub’s rear garden.
There is the plush armchair seating that you’d expect – and you get a ‘window view’ of course. There are even occasional train sound-effects!
It’s an odd experience…

Friday, 18 November 2011

Blurred trees

This photo was a complete accident - taken in too low a light, and so is somewhat blurred as you can see. It should be just deleted.
Yet I kinda like it. The pastel shades, the 'pointilliste' strokes making up the leaves on the ground  and the indistinct shapes remind me of paintings produced around 1900.
Sometimes these 'failed experiments' have a life of their own.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Jack Baskeyfield - VC

As the nights draw in, grim shadows take the places of what were once friendly landmarks. This forbidding shape is in fact a statue of Jack Baskeyfield VC, who died in action in World War Two.
The statue now stands at Hanley’s Festival Heights retail park.

There is some affection in the area for this young man, who came from here and who was only 24 when he died at the Battle of Arnhem in a last-ditch rearguard action.  A local school is named after him.
The fact that his body was never found shows how hopeless his situation was – and how brave he must have been to have kept on fighting.

Link: Baskeyfield VC

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bust has a joke

This bust peers out of a high barn window looking up the country lane near Swythamley Park. The barn was empty, so I guess whoever placed the bust there was having a little joke with possible passers-by…

The figure does seem familiar though. Is it the French writer, Honore de Balzac?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Speeding train

Train lines criss-cross Staffordshire, just as canals do. Being at the heart of England, the transport revolution of the early nineteenth century really took off here.

That means that one is often walking over crossings for one reason or another.  As I approached this crossing a train whizzed past in front of me.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hall in need of love

I came across Whitehough Hall purely by accident in the middle of nowhere, having got completely lost on a walk around Ipstones, in the Moorlands district (this happens to me a lot).

It was one of those breath-taking moments, being unexpectedly and suddenly faced with this great old building.  It dates to the 17th Century. I really love it.

Someone is doing it up now, as it had lain derelict for a while; but it will be a labour of love, as I can imagine it will be hugely costly to restore it.
Another hall nearby, Sharpecliffe Hall, was in a similar position, but is now flats I believe.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Katyn Memorial

The Katyn Massacre Memorial will no doubt have a ceremony at it today, today being Remembrance Sunday.
The memorial is hidden in a small copse on Cannock Chase, and - though there is a sizeable Polish community the county - it’s a bit of a puzzle why it’s placed there, but it is, so that’s that.

If anyone needs to understand the horror of brutal & totalitarian ‘politics’, I do recommend they see the film ‘Katyn’.  It tells the story of the Second World War massacre in which the Soviets shipped thousands of Polish officers and professional people (who had already surrendered) to a forest – and simply shot them all.
It was politics in the raw – Stalin had decided that Poland would be easier to manage with the middle-classes out of the way. The logic is impeccable, the results horrifying.
The Russians only admitted that Stalin had done it in 1990.  No wonder many Poles still fear Russia, and are happy to be in the European Union.

The film of Katyn is not gory incidentally. Instead it quietly but effectively blisters one’s spirit to its core. One is shaking afterwards.