Sunday, 31 July 2011

Untruths in Stone

The Anglo-Saxon origins of the town of Stone are told in these fine iron railings at the end of its High Street - telling the story of Rufin and Wulfad, who were killed by their father King Wulfhere for converting to Christianity. Their mother buried them under a cairn of stones nearby - and so the town came to be called 'Stone'.
The trouble: the story's a lot of nonsense. Wulfhere did, yes, have his issues with Christianity, but there's no evidence at all of the existence of the two boys, or the terrible deed.

I'm conflicted about this. Is it right to deceive people with this 'untruth' (such a nicer word than lie), or am I being stuffy? What would most English towns do without their origin myths???
Or... as Dick Cheney might say, should we just tuck it away, defining it as a 'known unknown'?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Death and ale

The Black Lion pub at Cheddleton is one of my favourites. It's (slightly) off the beaten track, has no frills at all, has a history, and is a proper drinkers' local. It is a real pub.

Like a proper pub, it is in the shadow of the local church (which, in this case, is an attraction itself, with its Pre-Raphaelite associations). So, if you want, you can wander the graveyard in between pints. If you want.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Urban design... not.

Hanley Tesco pathway

In Hanley, the huge new Tesco super-hyper-megamarket covers acres of territory just outside the town centre. For all the tens of thousands of pounds spent on the building and its environs, the architecture is plainly uninspired; and I guess that comes down to money. Fair enough.

Yet this pathway, along one of its sides, linking the supermarket back to the town centre, drives me to despair , because it is such an example of total lack of regard for our environment.
It could have been a wonderful corner, or vista, or community 'piazza', but it ends up being unfriendly (in my humblr opinion).

This side-pathway was a positive chance for Tesco to show some real urban, creative imagination in the design of a small but self-contained, redundant space - but they came up with this dull...virtual nothing. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Stafford's hottest place

The glasshouse at Stafford's Victoria Park looks inviting: full of tropical, exotic, colourful plants to pore over and wonder at.
But on a sunny, summer day like today? It's 23 degrees outside - and blimey, it's much hotter and more sultry in there!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Memorials of war

There are war memorials all over Staffordshire. Even just as simple records of names, they tell the saddest story. In one rural village I know, a simple board in the church records the deaths of fifty men in the Great War - which must have been a huge loss to that small comunity.

The one in the photo, in Hanley, is one of the largest in the county, yet I would guess most office-workers would walk past it not noticing it, simply because it is one of those permanent features that we all, after time, ignore. But, nevertheless, they shouldn't be moved out of town centres, or pulled down, just because we largely disregard them. War memorials, like old churches (and pubs!), are one of the few ways we all maintain our common, continuous history.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Books revival in Newcastle

There are not many rare & second-hand book shops in town centres in Staffordshire. I can count them on the fingers of one hand.
I guess that charity shops (the Shelter one in Hanley is okay) have stolen the bottom end of the market, and that Amazon/ebay has the more lucrative end.

So it was nice to see a new one opening - in Merrial Street, in Newcastle-under-Lyme (near the police station). The books are a tad pricey for me, and it's not easy to find what you want, but the range is good and the owner's enthusiasm is infectious. (He will bargain too, if pushed).

The owner is convinced that news of the 'death of the book' (hello, Kindle!) is premature. He says you can't love a kindle like you can a book, and a kindle "doesn't smell like an old book". (He's right there!). I wish I was as sure as him - but I'm not.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Rudyard Lake 'Lady'

Rudyard Lake (just north of Leek) is unique in Staffordshire as the one reservoir which has private homes lining its shores. The others are generally reserved for water activities or for wildlife.
Only the western shore of Rudyard has homes, and, as you can see, they nestle into the steep bank that rises from the waterline. It's a great setting for a home, and properties come expensive there.
The building on the far left of the photo is the historic Lady In The Lake boathouse.

The 'disadvantages' to owning a home here are the children who scream in mock-horror as they take boats out (from the sailing club), and the flood of walkers like me, as one five-mile path circumnavigates the lake very neatly.

Incidentally, the parents of the writer Rudyard Kipling honey-mooned here, and named their son after the lake.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Photo-blogger's hello

I guess we've all done this, so I don't feel too embarassed. Here's a hello to you all from my shadow, taken by a footpath stile in Hilderstone. Hi!

It has been a wonderfully warm and sunny day here - hence the country walk.

Talking of which, I was once made starkly aware of the issues of being a woman - even today, in our freer world - when a woman-friend of mine (who is pretty feisty, no wilting violet) once said to me that she would never feel comfortable going for a walk on her own in the open countryside. I was stunned; and realised that we have a way to go yet for full 'Progress'.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Photo - just photo

Why did I feel compelled to take this photo?
All photo-bloggers have the same experiences: sometimes you have those days when nothing, yes nothing, seems to be worth even a desultory snap; and then there are those other days, when, for no apparent reason, random photos (like this one) beg to be taken.

So... I can't tell you why I like this composition. I just do.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Christ goes without...

What's special about the Jesus in this photo? Can you see? The picture was taken at the Unitarian Chapel in Newcastle-under-Lyme, where they say, proudly, that Josiah Wedgwood himself was a regular attender three centuries or so ago.

I was being shown round the tiny building, and was asked the same question - but I failed to come up with the answer. Answer: Jesus has no halo (a sign of a divine nature).
Unitarians are Christians, but believe Jesus was fully human, not divine.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Found art' in Oulton

'Found art' is when one takes an object and thoughtfully places it in a new context - and this act gives the new arrangment of the object the right to be called 'art'. I think.

So I enjoyed the way the owner of this house stuck a piece of old memorial sculpture (from an old church doorway, perhaps?) on to the wall outside their home. I kinda like odd, idiosyncratic, for-no-reason-at-all displays like this! Makes life entertaining...

The clue, I would guess, as to how the owner got the piece is in the name of the house - 'The Old Vicarage'.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Cat loving nation

The English are an animal loving nation, so they say. This sign on a back-road in Alrewas seems to prove the point!

Incidentally, and sadly, the amount of badgers which get knocked down on Staffordshire's rural roads is phenomenal. Such road-kill is a common sight.
Is it because badgers are too lumbering and slow for traffic to avoid them? Or is it because farmers (most of whom hate badgers) gun for them as soon as they see them?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Anglers vs Boaters

On the canal towpath at Acton Trussell, I came across this sign, which made me laugh out loud. I'm guessing, but I think it's part of the endless battle on canals between anglers and the holiday-makers who hire out narrowboats.
I would suppose that some people out fishing on this stretch think that boats which are going too fast, and throwing up a swell, deserve to have bait thrown at them in protest...!
I just wish I'd been there.

The speed limit on canals is four miles an hour, I believe.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Where Handel walked (?)

The famous composer George Handel stayed as a guest at Calwich Abbey Hall near Ellastone in the eighteenth century.
However, all that's left of the hall now is this ruined building - the old stable block.
A public footpath runs right by this building, and it's nice to think that one is walking on the same track that the great man might once have used himself.

There is a story that he composed his famous Messiah while here in Staffordshire, but the story seems to be less and less true as researches dig deeper.

Really miserable, grey, rainy day today.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Muslim celebration

The annual Urs Mubarak celebration is under way at the Darbar Unique Centre in Fenton.
Usually, there are hundreds of bright glittering silken flags, almost tinselly in their shininess, covered in quotations from the Qu'ran and coloured green, the colour of Islam. This year, I'm told, most of the pennants are made of plastic, because the silken flags get ruined in our weather - albeit it's summer...

Orthodox Muslims aren't sure what to make of the holy man, the Pir (saint) Pandariman, who is at the centre of these celebrations, and who lives here. Sure enough, he attracts thousands of devotees, but he's in the Sufi-mystic tradition of Islam, which is a bit way-out for a lot of local Muslims.

Link - BBC: The Saint of Fenton / Darbar Unique centre

Friday, 15 July 2011

Procession for Britain-In-Bloom

Newcastle takes the Britain-In-Bloom competition seriously - if this procession of children, who were singing about flowers and waving floral arrangements of their own, is to be believed.

The children (led by some very enthusiastic teachers!) paraded through the town centre as part of the town's effort to raise awareness of its involvement in the competition that rewards florally-conscious communities...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bowling with WG Grace

Statue, 'Waiting To Bowl', of WG Grace

Playing bowls is pretty popular in these days. As the bowls whizz by, the spectators take it all in; and the bowling green at Victoria Park in Stafford seems packed with players in the current sunny summer days.

The statue, 'Waiting To Bowl', is actually of WG Grace, who was not only a famous cricketer, but a bowling fan too.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Caldon Canal's 'Ugly'

'Ugly Bette' sits on the Caldon Canal - sporting a proud Stafford Knot logo.

The Stafford Knot (not the 'Staffordshire Knot') is the symbol of the county; and (some say) can be dated back to Ethelflaeda's founding of the town of Stafford in 913.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Transport fans rally round

Attending a vehicle rally - especially one with vintage cars and agricultural machinery - is one of the ways we English love to spend a Saturday afternoon. The owners turn up with their beloved and ancient machines, and we the public pay for the chance to inspect them, very often staring meaningfully at their engines and asking obscure questions.
To be frank, it's a bit of a mystery to me..! But such fairs definitely are popular.

The 1962 Metropolitan car in the photo here was at the Draycott-en-le-Moors fair at the weekend.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Bavaria in Staffordshire

Alton Castle

This view could be one taken in Bavaria, or even the Czech Republic - but no, this is good old Staffordshire. I like taking visitors along the now-disused Alton railway line, and when I say "hey - look up at that!", they look up and - as they see this sight - their eyes widen...

Alton Castle - a neo-Gothic romance built in the 19th century - is owned by the Catholic Church, and is now private offices, so you can't go into it, though you can get close to it from the driveway in Alton village.

Quite a view, this one, aint it?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Penkhull mystery

The annual mystery play at Penkhull, a suburb of Stoke-on-Trent, is a recent phenomenon, but improves year on year. I saw it when it was performed yesterday (Saturday).

In it, the local community gets together to perform a so-called 'mystery' play (a performance style that is a descendant of the amateur medieval plays that depicted stories from the Bible). This year the community created the story of the biblical Book of Ruth - which seems to involve a lot of death somehow (see Death in the photo!).

It all takes place on the village green beside the church. This year, the action just managed to escape the intermittent showers that have characterised the weather of the last few days.

My vote - brilliant. Okay, I couldn't hear much of it, even just a few rows back, but the costumes and creation were way above expected.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Battlestead ... battle?

Up the slope from the village of Tatenhill is Battlestead Wood - and all over the wood are footpath signs imprinted with a Saxon warrior's head. This because an old legend in the village refers to a famous battle being fought there sometime pre-Conquest.
Trouble is: the documents referring to any battle are pretty thin, and the only real evidence of a battle there is the local verbal tradition. Still, it's quite spooky walking round the woods.

Coincidentally, the exhibition of Staffordshire Hoard pieces (all from the Saxon era) is now starting its tour round the county - being in Stafford at the moment. I saw some of it a year ago, but the pieces were so small, I found it hard to get enthusiastic.

Links: Staffordshire Hoard 2011 tour / Saxon sites in Staffordshire

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Ipstones pomp

James Cope must have been quite a figure in the tiny Moorlands village of Ipstones during his lifetime. This grand tomb memorial was built for his two wives (who both died before him), and then he was interred at this spot too, when he died in 1910.
I guess his family (or was it on his own posthumous orders?) then had the bust of James himself stuck on top.
It doesn't quite work, does it? Bit too pompous for modern tastes.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Dead lamb on Pea Low

Not all lambs make it through the summer. I found this little one dead on Pea Low (Narrowdale Hill is in the background), with its mother bleating nearby. I guess it was just one of the weak ones, as it didn't seem to have been attacked.

Pea Low is - ironically - an ancient burial site, one of the oldest in the Peak. I think I read that its use as a burial site dates back to as much as 5,000 years ago.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Langos goulash is the best in town

The Langos cafe is not a place many people know about: it's right at the back of Hanley's indoor-market. But I always eat lunch here when I am in Hanley.
The Slovakian couple who run the place do British dishes of course - fish & chips etc - but they also do their own home-made East European dishes for the local Slovakian, Czech & Hungarian expats.
The goulash is outstanding - and at £3.50 a go, well-cheap! (The coffee aint much admittedly, so I move on to Starbucks, upstairs, for that).

Langos have just introduced a new dish - spicy goulash with dumplings. Magic.

Link: Langos on Facebook

Monday, 4 July 2011

Church memorial in colour

Tomb memorial in Brewood Church

This perfect little tomb memorial in Brewood Church in South Staffordshire is something I could look at for ages. In fact all the coloured seventeenth-century tombs (some of which are much much larger than this one!) in the church are pretty special.
Notice the children of the married couple - the small one in the middle is in a shroud, meaning the child had died in infancy.

Link: Brewood Church

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Stafford services in the sun

Stafford Motorway Service Station on the M6 is one of the newest in the country - and you can tell. It's really spread out, and even has a mini-lake, with a fountain in the middle of it, for punters to sit by on sunny days such as today.
It's more attractive than some of the crummy services you come across; in fact, some people had even brought picnics and were sitting by the lake eating them. And why not?

(Actually, the service station is nearer to Stone than Stafford, but that's minor point...)

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Wakes day

For me, Alstonefield is the quintessential Staffordshire Peak District village. It's pretty but not prettifield, and while it has enough car parks to satisfy the hordes of ramblers, there is no other concession to commercialism. It's a living and working village that is not just the preserve of the rich, and it still manages to be perfect.

Today, it was the village's annual 'wakes' and sports day - with the egg & spoon race the most important of all... True to its image, there were just villagers there, and the event was small but perfect.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Regeneration - inside-out

House demolition
The artist who created life-size 'inside-out' houses might have enjoyed a walk through north Shelton (near Hanley) right now. The regeneration process, in which the old terraced houses are gradually being knocked down, occasionally leaves what were once interior walls now exposed as exterior walls.

I find it a bit embarassing. A private bedroom is now on public show, its insides and its wallpaper (once only rarely glimpsed) now revealed to all.
These walls look almost naked to me.

This post was featured on the My Town Shoot-Out Photo Blog