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Friday, 29 October 2010

Big Ben (London)

On 16th October 1834, the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a fire. A HUGE fire. Londoners came out to watch it, and legend has it, Charles Barry (whom we’ll meet in a moment) was passing by in a coach and stopped to watch for a while.
There were so many spectators, they actually hampered the firemen’s efforts to douse the flames.

When the flames were put out, there wasn’t much left. Only Westminster Hall. Parliament had nowhere to meet and they had to cancel their session.
In November 1835, 13 months later, they set up a committee to re-build and they held a competition for designs.

More than 400 designs were submitted by more than 90 architects.
In the end, the committee chose the design of Charles Barry, but here's a little secret: His original design did NOT include a clock tower! They asked him to revise it and to add a clock tower, of course with a clock inside!

Working with his trusty (but somewhat highly strung) assistant, Augustus Welby Pugin, Charles Barry added a clock tower to his design, along with four faces, and really big bells!

But Charles Barry, quite rightly, asserted that HE was an architect, not a clockmaker. So he asked Benjamin Lous Vuillamy, clockmaker to the Queen, to design a clock.
By this time, it was 1841, so you can’t blame Charlie for wanting to get on with his project. However….ALL the expert clockmakers across Britain were upset that he had asked Benjamin Louis Vuillamy to design the clock, without so much as an open competition.

One clockmaker, Edward Dent, wrote to George Airy, Astonomer Royal, asking him to recommend him for the job. Of course, George Airy did so, and, as a result, the committee decided that George Airy should write up a list of requirements for the Great Clock. They asked him to choose the design and the clockmaker to boot!
George Airy was really excited about his job, and he wrote up a list of requirements that had never been seen before. It was a long list, but the most important requirement was this:

 "The Great Clock should be so accurate that the first strike for each hour shall be accurate to within ONE second of time."

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Mt Snowdon (Wales) - View from the summit -

If you plan to visit Snowdon in Wales this summer, here is some interesting information about the mountain that you might like to know.

Snowdon, in Welsh, is Yr Wyddfa, which means tomb or monument. Legend has it that it is the tomb of Rhita Gawr, an ogre who would kill kings and make cloaks out of their beards. He supposedly met his end when King Arthur climbed to the top of Mount Snowdon and killed him.
No one knows who first conquered Snowdon, but ascents of the mountain became popular when Thomas Pennant published 'Tours' in 1781 and included his visit to the summit.
Snowdon, as indeed the surrounding area, has been mined since the Bronze Age, and evidence of copper mining can be seen all over the mountain, from old mine buildings, to old tramways. Care should be taken around these old buildings.

Facts and Figures of Snowdon

Snowdon stands 1,085 metres (3,560 feet) high. Each year 350,000 people reach the summit, some on foot and some by train. The summit has 200 inches(508 cm) of rain per year, and can reach temperatures of 30 centigrade in high summer, and plummet to - 20 centigrade in the winter. Add to this winds of up to 150 mph and the temperature can feel more like - 50. The summit buildings at the top can by covered by ice and snow between November and April.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Before the railway, ponies used to take tourists to the summit of Snowdon. Sir Richard Moon and Mr George Assheton Smith were responsible for the idea of the Snowdon Railway - Sir Moon as a way of boosting tourists using his standard gauge lines, and Mr Smith as he realised that tourist cash may compensate him from the loss of income from his declining mines.

They imported a fully working 800mm gauge mountain railway from Switzerland. The railway remains the only rack and pinion railway in the UK. It has tooted racks in the centre of the track that engage with cogs under the carriages.
The only accident on the railway occurred on the day it opened to the public in 1896. Engine #1, Ladas, derailed and plummeted down a slope. The crew jumped from the engine and survived, and the guard applied the hand brake to the carriages and brought them to a halt. Unfortunately, one of the passengers panicked and jumped from the carriage, falling onto the tracks and under the wheels. He later died from his injuries. The saga wasn't quite over, as just as the carriages stopped, the engine following behind (Enid - still operating today) hit them from behind!

The railway was closed. Since it reopened the following year there have been no further accidents! And since that date there has never been another Engine #1 on the Snowdon Railway!

The cost of the train trip is not cheap (apart from being a good walk in itself, another reason for trying to make the summit on foot!), but is a great way for those who cannot make the climb to travel to the top. However, good weather cannot be guaranteed, and you may start the trip on a clear day, only to find yourself in cloud as you reach the top.
If you choose to take the train up Mount Snowdon, you can walk back down via the Llanberis Path. You can get some wonderful views of the trains puffing their way up and down from the path. Not all trains are steam - there are also diesel engines.
If you plan to take the train up to the top of Snowdon beware that the trains get very crowded in the summer, and it is best to arrive early or even more advisable to book in advance by ringing 0870 458 0033 at least the day before. If you don't you may have a long wait. A board by the ticket office will tell you which is the next train with available seats. You can buy a return, or a single to the top. Single tickets for the journey down are sold on standby basis only.
Weather permitting the trains run from mid May to the end of October right to the summit, but from mid March, and a little way into November, stop at Clogwyn. Trains start running at 9am and continue until late afternoon.

Buildings on Snowdon Summit

In 1820 the first stone shelter was built at the summit by a guide named Lloyd. A copper miner, William Morris, had the idea of selling refreshments from the shelter - an idea which continues to the present day. Having walked up the mountain it is probably as welcome today, as it was to the earlier tourist, to be able to have something to eat and drink before tackling the descent.

Two hotels were opened on the summit, one called Roberts Hotel, the other the Cold Club. Both were in fierce competition with each other. There were often more visitors then beds though, and conditions were not the best. By 1898 the Snowdon Mountain Railway and Hotels Company had taken over the hotels, and started to rebuild them - the fierce conditions on the top of Mount Snowdon means that any building had a limited live. By the 1930s it was decided to replace the summit buildings with a multipurpose hotel, cafe and station. With little regard to conservation, the builders simply pushed the derelict old huts over the side of the mountain to make way for the new build (imagine the uproar today!). Sir Clough William-Ellis, the architect and designer of nearby Portmerion, designed the new building, complete with huge picture windows so visitors could best enjoy the panoramic views. Unfortunately the windows lasted only six months before they were blown in and had to be replaced with much smaller ones.
During the war years the summit buildings were used by the Ministry of Supply for experimental radio work, and subsequently by Air Ministry, Admiralty and Armed forces, and the mountain top was closed to tourists. The hotel did not reopen to tourists after the war.
In 2004 it was agreed that the summit buildings would undergo a total refurbishment. Demolition is due to start in the autumn of 2006, with the new centre being ready in 2007. There has been much debate about the form of the new buildings, but one thing is certain - whatever the new buildings look like, they will always be a welcome sight to walkers who have struggled their way to the top of the mountain!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ben Nevis (Scotland)

Facts and Figures

Standing at 1,344 metres high (or 4,408 feet) Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, and as such is the major challenge for any UK climber or walker.  

For the novice or non serious walker, once this peak has been achieved you can sit back and hang up your walking boots knowing that you have beaten the ultimate walk (as far as height is concerned, anyway).  

Ben Nevis, translated from the gaelic means 'Mountain of Heaven'.  The first recorded ascent was in 1771, and in 1883 the footpath and observatory were built all thanks to Clement Linley Wragge, nicknamed Inclement Wragge.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Scarfell Pike (Lake District)

Scarfell Pike, situated in the Cumbrian mountains in the beautful Lake District of Great Britain is England's highest peak. 

It stands 978 metres high (3,208 feet), and is climbed by thousands of people each year.  Along with Ben Nevis and Snowdon it is one of the mountains climbed as part of the Three Peaks Challenge.

Originally the name 'The Pikes of Sca Fell' was applied to the peaks which are nowadays known as Scafell Pike, Ill Crag and Broad Crag.  An error on an ordance survey map naming the highest 'Scafell Pike' has now stuck and is in common use.  The neighbouring peak, Sca Fell, looks higher from many angles, but is actually just 10 feet lower.

Scafell Pike was donated to the National Trust in the first quarter of the 20th Century by Lord Leconfield in memory of the men of the Lake District who fell in the First World War.

The summit of Scafell Pike is strewn with boulders, and much of the walk up involves clambering over rocks and uneven footing.  It is a rugged barren grey peak, with no vegatation.

There are two main routes up Scafell Pike, the most popular starting from Wasdale Head Inn (itself famous as reputedly the birth place of British Climbing), and the other starting from Seathwaite in Borrowdale.  The second is a longer route, but one which rewards the walker with magnificent views.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Stonehenge is located on the Salisbury Plain. It is a great mystery who built this massive stone circle. Theories include Druids, the Greeks, U.F.O.s and Atlanteans. Although the bigger mystery is why they built stonehenge. Some say it was a sacrificial altar or that it was an astronomy tool, back in the 18th century it was even proposed that stonehenge was used as a gallows.

Stonehenge was built in three parts over a period of 1000 years. The first part was just a mound, ditch and aubrey holes that were dug to make a circle. The second was when timbers were erected systematically all inside the circle. The third was when the lentel stones were erected and the bluestones set up into the Stonehenge we see today.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Hadrians Wall

The History of the Hadrians Wall
Hadrians Wall has survived for 2000 years - a monument to the the builders and Engineers of the Roman army. The Roman Emperor Hadrian visited Britain in 122AD. The South and West areas of England had been conquered by the Romans but the North was inhabited by a troublesome tribe called the Picts. At this time the Emperor Hadrian introduced a strategy of consolidation - his objective was to restore order in problematic regions of the Roman Empire. He wanted to ensure that Romans maintained their Empire - the days of expansion, instigating and financing invasions of new territories were past. 
 What was the purpose of Hadrians Wall?
The purpose of Hadrians Wall was to 'separate Romans from Barbarians'.
  • Hadrian's Wall was a Roman frontier
  • The purpose of Hadrians Wall was not just to prevent movement
  • Its purpose was to also to control movement - especially the movement of the Picts
What is the location of Hadrians Wall?
Hadrians Wall 
was a Roman frontier - a boundary. It was built across one of the narrowest parts of England, linking two rivers.
  • Hadrians Wall stretched between the East from Wallsend on the river Tyne ( near Newcastle )
  • To the West reaching to the Solway Firth at Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbia
What was the size of Hadrians Wall?
Hadrians Wall 
was a massive boundary measuring 73 miles ( 117km ) in length.
  • Hadrians Wall measured 73 miles long which was equivalent to 80 Roman miles
    • A Roman mile was 5000 feet (1524 meters)
    • The Roman mile originates from the Latin word 'Mille' meaning a thousand
    • A Roman mile was the distance a Roman legion could march in 1000 paces ( equivalent to 2000 steps )
    • The Modern mile is longer - 8 furlongs, 80 chains, 320 rods, 1760 yards or 5280 feet
  • The 42 miles of the Eastern section was the first to be built using stone
  • The 31 miles Western section was initially built using turf - to hasten the completion of the barrier
  • At the highest point it was 3.6 metres high - 12 feet
  • And 2.4 metres wide - eight feet

Who built Hadrians Wall? How long did the wall take to build?
Hadrians Wall  was built by Roman legionaries. These Romans belonged to the 2nd, 6th and 20th legions.
  • A Roman legion during the reign of the Emperor Augustus has been numbered at approx 5000 legionaries
    • A Roman legion was an infantry unit consisting of heavily armed soldiers, called legionaries, equipped with shields, armor, helmets, spears and swords
    • The Roman Emperor Hadrian had a total of 28 legions spread throughout the Empire
  • The men of the Roman Legions were skilled in building roads, buildings and roads. Engineers, Stonemasons and Blacksmiths played a vital role in the legions
  • Hadrians Wall took about 6 years to complete
What was Hadrians Wall made of ?
Hadrians Wall  was constrcted in two parts:
  • The 42 miles of the Eastern section was the first to be built using stone
  • The stone wall had two outer faces of dressed stone and contained a centre of rubble and mortar
  • The 31 miles Western section was initially built using turf - to hasten the completion of the barrier
  • The turf wall was designed to hasten the completion of the barrier - it was built of turf blocks and built on a foundation of cobble stones
  • Many parts of the turf wall were later replaced with stone
What did Hadrians Wall look like ?
Hadrians Wall  was a remarkable example of Roman building and architecture:
  • The wall stretched for 73 miles, was 8 feet wide and 12 feet high!
  • 80 Milecastles were built along the wall
    • Every Roman mile a milecastle was erected
    • A huge fortified gateway which Roman soldiers used to go on patrol to the north of Hadrian’s Wall
    • The Milecastles were also used to control people who passed through the Wall
  • Turrets - At regular intervals between the milecastles turrets were built
    • Turrets were small towers extending above the Wall
    • From the numerous turrets the Roman soldiers could keep watch over the surrounding countryside
  • Forts - 16 Roman forts were built along the wall - these forts could house up to 800 Roman troops and afforded even greater control across the boundary
    • The Roman forts consisted of a Commanders headquarters, houses, hospital, workshops, barracks, granaries, stables and a prison
  • The Forts, Milecastles and Turrets enabled Roman soldiers to watch what was happening along the whole length of the border
  • Ditches - On the north side of the Wall a deep defensive ditch was dug - ensuring that the wall could only be crossed through the Roman controlled Milecastles or Forts
  • Settlements grew up around the forts and trading centres were created
Who manned Hadrians Wall? - The Garrisons
Garrisons were manned with a varying number of Roman Troops stationed at permanently established military posts.
  • The Turrets housed Garrisons of up to 4 troops
  • The Milecastles housed Garrisons of up to 60 troops
  • The Roman Forts housed Garrisons of up to 800 troops
The wall was manned initially by troops from the 2nd, 6th and 20th legions who incorporated men from every corner of the Roman Empire. The job of manning the wall then gradually fell to men who were recruited from the local population. Manning Hadrians Wall was eventually viewed as a good job by the local population and the job of manning the wall was passed from father to son, much as with any other occupations.
The Romans leave Britain - The Ruins of Hadrians WallArchaeological evidence has enabled us to gain an accurate picture of Hadian's Wall and the Romans who built the structure and lived there. The ruins still stand after 2000 years. The wall fell into disrepair following the decline of the Roman Empire when the Romans left Britain in 410 AD. Stones taken from the wall were used to build local buildings and for the construction of great monasteries such as those built at Jarrow, Monkwearmouth and Lindisfarne. After 500 years of occupation the Romans left Britain and the History of the Castle continues with Alfred the Great & the Burhs

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Warkworth Castle - North East England

Type: Castle / Fort

The magnificent cross-shaped keep of Warkworth, crowning a hilltop rising steeply above the River Coquet, dominates one of the largest, strongest and most impressive fortresses in Northumberland.
The castle's most famous owners were the Percy family, whose lion badge can be seen carved on many parts of their stronghold. Wielding almost kingly power in the north, their influence reached its apogee under the first Earl of Northumberland and his son 'Harry Hotspur', hero of many Border ballads as the bane of Scots raiders and a dominant character in Shakespeare's 'Henry IV'. Having helped to depose Richard II, these turbulent 'kingmakers' both fell victim to Henry IV: the next three Percy Earls likewise died violent deaths.

Friday, 22 October 2010

bamburgh castle - North East England

A beatiful castle and a must see when visiting the North-East

Angel Of The North - NE England

Here's some amazing facts about the Angel of the North.
  • It is believed to be the largest angel sculpture in the world
  • It is one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world - seen by more than one person every second, 90,000 every day or 33 million every year
  • It is one of the most famous artworks in the region - almost two thirds of people in the North East had already heard of the Angel of the North before it was built
  • Its 54 metre (175 foot) wingspan is bigger than a Boeing 757 or 767 jet and almost the same as a Jumbo jet
  • It is 20 metres (65 feet) high - the height of a five storey building or four double decker buses
  • It weighs 200 tonnes - the body 100 tonnes and the wings 50 tonnes each
  • There is enough steel in it to make 16 double decker buses or four Chieftain tanks
  • It will last for more than 100 years
  • It will withstand winds of more than 100 miles per hour
  • Below the sculpture, massive concrete piles 20 metres deep will anchor it to the solid rock beneath
  • It is made of weather resistant Cor-ten steel, containing a small amount of copper, which forms a patina on the surface that mellows with age
  • Huge sections of the Angel - up to six metres wide and 25 metres long - were transported to the site by lorry with a police escort
  • The total cost of The Angel of the North was £800,000
  • There is unique species of daffodil named the Angel of the North due to its orange, rusty hue and lofty height. The Angel of the North daffodil has been verified and registered with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Lake District