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The Canterbury Tales

He stood staring into the wood for a minute, then said: “What is it about the English countryside - why is the beauty so much more than visual? Why does it touch one so?
 Wye National Nature Reserve, Kent, UK.

Wye National Nature Reserve, Kent, UK.

Having two of your three kids and families living on the far side of the world is not nice but on the other hand provides opportunities to travel and explore the places we most likely would otherwise never have got to see. In June I was so fortunate to travel yet again to the UK and Ireland primarily to meet our newest grandchild in the making in Canterbury, Kent and spend time with family and grandkids in Ireland. We landed in the UK in the early hours of 9th June and our new grandson was born that evening. Couldn’t have timed it better.  

 Our 5th grandchild and first born in the UK. Little Leo.

Our 5th grandchild and first born in the UK. Little Leo.

Leading up to this trip I was determined to not be burdened with heavy camera gear, which in its entirety weighs about 8kg and since its carry-on luggage its already exceeding weight allowance. With that in mind, I spent a lot of time researching one of the most recent and critically acclaimed ‘all purpose’ Olympus zoom lenses, the 12-100mm f/4 lens. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive so I took the plunge and bought it, and ever since have been trying to block the cost from my conscience.

 Olympus E-M1 MKII paired with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens. 

Olympus E-M1 MKII paired with Olympus 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO lens. 

I used it for almost all of the hundreds of photos I took on this trip. I found the focusing to be lightning fast and the images to be very sharp. The lens focal range of 12-100mm (24-200mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is very versatile covering wide angle to close in shots. It was also a lot nicer walking around with just a camera and single lens and not be burdened with an additional few extra lenses adding weight to my aging shoulders. I also took my faster 25mm f1.2 lens for use in low light situations however the 12-100mm has in-built image stabilisation as does my Olympus E-M1 MKII camera which means that paired together they can be hand-held for taking tack sharp photos at very slow shutter speeds. 

One of the awful aspects of this trip was leaving the New Zealand winter for summertime in the northern hemisphere. How hard can that be? I soon got over it before I’d even left home. The UK, and later on Ireland, weather did not disappoint. We had packed for all seasons but we struck a heatwave and unbelievably no rain for the duration of the trip. The first rain was as we were descending into Auckland on our return home.

We were based in Canterbury, Kent where our daughter, son-in-law, and newest grandchild live. Its a beautiful city. Having been in Canterbury three times now, it feels familiar and comfortable. It’s a World Heritage city that pulses with life being the home of two universities, being a domestic and international tourist visitor magnet, and being a destination for endless groups of school kids from Europe on history trips.

 Summer days. Canterbury, Kent, UK. In the upper left is 'the ducking chair'.    This is a chair suspended on a frame hanging over the River Stour. It was used in the middle ages as a form of retribution for three types of situations. Firstly it was used as a punishment for nagging wives. In those enlightened times, a man could pay for his nagging wife to be dipped into the river on the ducking stool and of course suffer a degree of public humiliation at the same time. Secondly, it was used as a punishment and public embarrassment for cheating businessmen, who would be ducked into the water in front of a baying crowd and who would inevitably be forced to leave the city afterwards, their reputation in tatters. Lastly it was most famously used as a litmus test for witches and the way it worked was this: any woman accused of being a witch would be placed in the chair, and the chair would be swung out over the river and then submerged deep in the river for 2-3 minutes. After that time, the poor woman would be brought back to the surface. If she survived this lengthy ducking then clearly she was a witch as she must have used her powers to survive the fatal dowsing. If so, she would be burned at the stake as a witch. If, however, the lady was dead after being submerged for 3 minutes, then clearly she was not a witch.

Summer days. Canterbury, Kent, UK. In the upper left is 'the ducking chair'.  

This is a chair suspended on a frame hanging over the River Stour. It was used in the middle ages as a form of retribution for three types of situations. Firstly it was used as a punishment for nagging wives. In those enlightened times, a man could pay for his nagging wife to be dipped into the river on the ducking stool and of course suffer a degree of public humiliation at the same time. Secondly, it was used as a punishment and public embarrassment for cheating businessmen, who would be ducked into the water in front of a baying crowd and who would inevitably be forced to leave the city afterwards, their reputation in tatters. Lastly it was most famously used as a litmus test for witches and the way it worked was this: any woman accused of being a witch would be placed in the chair, and the chair would be swung out over the river and then submerged deep in the river for 2-3 minutes. After that time, the poor woman would be brought back to the surface. If she survived this lengthy ducking then clearly she was a witch as she must have used her powers to survive the fatal dowsing. If so, she would be burned at the stake as a witch. If, however, the lady was dead after being submerged for 3 minutes, then clearly she was not a witch.

Canterbury is a city rich in history and is of course the home of Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest and most famous cathedral’s in England. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic centre of the worldwide Anglican faith.

 Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent.

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent.

 The Old Weavers' House, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

The Old Weavers' House, Canterbury, Kent, UK.

Within the inner city there are beautiful gardens including Westgate Gardens and the River Stour. Such a wonderful asset in the city and idyllic in summer.  

There are still sections of a medieval wall that surrounded Canterbury including the Westgate. This 18 metre (60 foot) high western gate in the city wall is the largest surviving city gate in England. It was built circa 1379 and is the last survivor of Canterbury's seven medieval gates. 

 The Westgate. Circa 1379. 

The Westgate. Circa 1379. 

One of the great joys of travel is chancing upon something special. Given the history of the UK its not surprising that there is some sort of claim to fame around virtually every corner. So it is in Canterbury and another example is St Martin's Church, the first church founded in England, the oldest parish church in continuous use and the oldest church in the entire English-speaking world. As such, it is recognised, along with Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, as part of a World Heritage Site.

 St Martin's Church, Canterbury, Kent. The oldest church in the entire English-speaking world.

St Martin's Church, Canterbury, Kent. The oldest church in the entire English-speaking world.

It almost looks like an optical illusion but The Crooked House, sometimes known as Sir John Boys House, King’s Gallery, or Old King’s Shop, looks as if it is about to tumble over. It’s skewed facade stops many visitors in their tracks. 

 The 17th century Crooked House. 

The 17th century Crooked House. 

Built in the 17th century, the Crooked House’s strange appearance has sparked a few stories. Some claim that it inspired a passage in Dicken’s David Copperfield. Others say it was the house of MP and recorder of Canterbury, Sir John Boys; this has been discovered to be unfounded. Nonetheless, the house often takes his name. The Crooked House is perched at the end of Palace Street, near the centre of Canterbury and within earshot of the bells of the Cathedral. An internal chimney slipping gave the house it’s asymmetrical appearance. Today a steel frame keeps it in place. It gives the building a dizzying effect. Today, it is the home of Catching Lives Bookshop which sells second-hand books to raise money for the homeless and vulnerably housed. 

There are so many photo opportunities in Canterbury.

One of the things that I believe from overseas travels is that no one country has a monopoly on beauty. In New Zealand we have an arguably spectacular landscape with a rugged raw beauty about it, whereas In England I see a softer landscape with a romantic, historical beauty about it. It’s a landscape I really love and I’d love to explore much more of it and I'll show you some more of it in the next blog entry.

I love the cross-country walks, cycle ways and bridle paths that criss-cross the country and link towns and villages and the knowledge that at the end of those walks you are likely to find a beautiful little centuries old pub. There’s an inviting ambience in these pubs and they tend to be family and dog friendly. Of all the pleasures and delights of England, the historic country pubs are right up there.

I'll close this blog entry with a couple of images from one of my favourite walks from Canterbury to the village of Chartham along The Great Stour Way. This 5km (3 mile) trail follows the River Stour and crosses beautiful countryside, runs alongside man made fishing lakes and nature reserves. I walked it one evening and by the time I got back to Canterbury my legs were about to surrender. 

 Evening on The Great Stour Way between Canterbury and Chartham, Kent, UK.

Evening on The Great Stour Way between Canterbury and Chartham, Kent, UK.

 Why walk to Chartham? It's worth it just to walk into The Artichoke.

Why walk to Chartham? It's worth it just to walk into The Artichoke.

I'll leave it there now. My original intention was to squeeze the England part of the holiday into one blog entry but there is so much more to show beyond Canterbury, so there will be a few more in the coming weeks. 

Until next time.....all you need is love 

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Land of hope and glory

I was fortunate to escape a month of winter this year travelling again to the United Kingdom and Ireland. This trip was primarily to spend time with our family. Firstly there was the wedding of one of our daughters in Kent in the UK and later we’d fly across the Irish Sea to Dublin to reconnect with another daughter, partner and our delightful grandchildren. It seems an inescapable fact these days that families are often scattered across the world and so it is with two of my three kids residing some 18000kms away. I am so looking forward to the imminent arrival of another grandchild right here in Tauranga. As always I was conscious of how much photography gear I wanted to take and lug around. Being indecisive and full of ‘what ifs’ when out with my camera, I ended up taking the lot which added about 7.5kg to my shoulder burden. 

I have a strong desire to hopefully upon retirement spend several months in the UK and Ireland, not only to have time with the family on the far side of the planet but to travel around indulging my photography passion, camera in hand, photographing the landscapes I really love. I view the countryside of England as a soft poetic romantic historic landscape with so much charm. In Ireland, it’s the rugged coastlines that attract me. Many moons ago a clairvoyant told me I was a priest in Ireland 600 years ago. Maybe it’s where I get my calling :)

We were so lucky to arrive in England at the beginning of a heatwave that saw temperatures hitting the low to mid 30C’s for a few days. Only problem was it wasn’t anticipated so we weren’t exactly well stocked with summer clothing and were really feeling the heat.

 Canterbury, Kent, and the crystal clear River Stour, UK.

Canterbury, Kent, and the crystal clear River Stour, UK.

 Hot town, summer in the city. Canterbury, Kent, UK.

Hot town, summer in the city. Canterbury, Kent, UK.

We were based at our daughter and son-in-law’s home in the beautiful historic city of Canterbury, Kent. 

One of the first excursions was a train trip to Ramsgate and a coastal walk of some 8km between striking white chalk cliffs and a very blue ocean under a clear blue sky. This Ramsgate to Broadstairs walk (16km return) was a real highlight and very much recommended. 

Charles Dickens visited Broadstairs regularly from 1837 until 1859 and described the town as "Our English Watering Place". He wrote David Copperfield while staying at Bleak House. Former UK Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath was born in Broadstairs in 1916. It would have been remiss to have visited Broadstairs and not sampled the best chips in Kent as voted by ‘The Potato Council’. In fact virtually every seaside town makes claim to the best fish and chips. The downside of that is that fish and chips can quickly become the default meal. 

 Whitstable fish fillet, Whitstable oysters and Whitstable Lager.

Whitstable fish fillet, Whitstable oysters and Whitstable Lager.

We drove from Canterbury across Kent, around the southern outskirts of London on the world's biggest car park, the M25, and west to Bath in Somerset and then on to the Cotswolds. Our first overnight stop was the stunning city of Bath.  The Georgian architecture, warm honey coloured stone buildings and the  River Avon flowing through the city paint a beautiful picture. It really is special. 

From Bath it was north through The Cotswolds to the historic market town of Chipping Campden. Here we stayed in several centuries old Badgers Hall. I expected a haunting but they were restful sleeps perhaps aided by a wine or two in very comfortable accommodation. 

 Chipping Campden, The Cotswolds.

Chipping Campden, The Cotswolds.

The Cotswolds exude beauty and are this photographer’s drug of choice A patchwork of picture postcard historic market towns linked by country lanes and set in beautiful countryside. I could live here but not having won Lotto, or been lucky enough to get and syndicate the first authentic photo of an extraterrestrial visitor that’s not going to happen. (Click following images for slideshow).

Heading back to Canterbury we made a stop at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. The scale of this palace and estate is huge. Revered wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill was born and raised here and is buried nearby in Bladon. 

 Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace

 Last resting place of Sir Winston Churchill (1876-1964) "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Last resting place of Sir Winston Churchill (1876-1964) "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

I do like to be beside the seaside, beside the sea and have visited a few coastal towns and cities in the UK. On this visit it was Ramsgate, Broadstairs, Herne Bay and Whitstable, home of the revered Whitstable oyster. 

Its a a subjective thing and for me the beaches are not gob smackingly beautiful compared to those in New Zealand or Australia. The attraction to me with UK beaches is in the history, much of it still visible, and knowing so many generations have lived and worked in the ports, or operated or worked on fishing boats, in many cases launching them the hard way from rugged gravel beaches reflecting the lack of natural harbours along the coast.

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...........or just taking fresh air holidays beside the seaside. 

 Whitstable, Kent, UK.

Whitstable, Kent, UK.

The culmination of of this trip to England was our daughter’s wedding. The day dawned overcast, cool and drizzly. By mid-morning the cloud retreated beyond the far horizons and laid bare the most beautiful summer day adding the icing to a wonderful celebration.  

 The Secret Garden, Ashford, Kent with my daughter Dr Jennie Taylor-Prince

The Secret Garden, Ashford, Kent with my daughter Dr Jennie Taylor-Prince

 Let them eat cake! And what a beautiful creation this cake was made by my daughter and her bridesmaids.

Let them eat cake! And what a beautiful creation this cake was made by my daughter and her bridesmaids.

Welcome aboard Aer Lingus. It was hard to leave the UK but exciting heading across the Irish Sea to Dublin to spend time with another daughter and family and our grandkids. Oh’ and to a sneaky (and expensive) visit to a camera shop.  More on the Emerald Isle in the next instalment 'What's the craic?'. 

 Dublin bound

Dublin bound