Insanity

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This is one of the rides on top of the Stratosphere tower in Las Vegas. Well-named.

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Frankly, I can think of nothing I would like to do less. Imagine hanging out over this:

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The next shot shows where I dug in my heels and refused to budge. A wimp? Or just sane?

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In fact (and I know I risk offending some here), I heartily dislike Las Vegas. It’s a shame I have had to go there twice now, in order to visit the Grand Canyon and other beautiful natural wonders of the American Southwest. But my family enjoyed the rides. The city is just one big theme park to them. 🙂

Window on the Canyon

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This is a view of the Grand Canyon from the Watchtower at Desert View.
The Watchtower, impressively perched on the edge of the mighty canyon, was completed in 1932.  It is one of several buildings in the Grand Canyon area designed by American architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter.

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Inside, the tower is decorated with murals by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi from second Mesa.

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Vien dietro a me, e lascia dir le genti:

Sta come torre ferma, che non crolla

Gia mai la cima per soffiar di’ venti.

Follow me and leave the world to chatter:

Be steady as a tower that never bows its head,

However hard the winds may blow.

Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia (1307), ‘Purgatorio’, Canto 5

Walk this Wey: Thames Lock

Today’s post is about one of my favourite local places, Thames Lock in Weybridge, Surrey. Thames Lock is the first lock of the Wey and Godalming Navigations.  One of Britain’s earliest man-made navigable waterways, the Navigations, which run for just under 20 miles from the Thames at Weybridge to Godalming, preceded the canal age by a century.  Now owned and managed by the National Trust, the Navigations and their towpath provide a tranquil green corridor through some of Surrey’s most built up areas and a pleasant, easy route through some of its loveliest countryside.

The Navigations were the brainchild of Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Place.  The first ten miles from the Thames were opened in 1653 and extended to Godalming by 1764.  The principal cargo was timber from Surrey’s forests destined for the shipbuilding yards on the banks of the Thames. But the Navigations were also an important route for the transport of wheat, flour and numerous other cargoes, including, in the early 1920s, a number of aircraft from Brooklands.  Today, the Navigations are plied by pleasure boats rather than commercial barges and the towpath is frequented by walkers and cyclists rather than the horses that used to pull the barges.

The entrance to the Navigations from the Thames at Weybridge is misleadingly insignificant in appearance, barely noticeable but for the sign on a post in the river.  Yet it is the location for an exciting passage in local writer, H G Wells’s classic, The War of the Worlds, which concludes as follows:

‘I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the shore.  Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end.  I fell helplessly, in full sight of the Martians, upon the broad, bare, gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames.  I expected nothing but death.’  (1898)

While not as challenging as evading Martian invaders, finding Thames Lock, where the towpath begins, can be difficult on foot.  A path, known as Church Walk, runs from the side of the Old Crown, a 17th century Grade II listed pub on Thames Street to Radnor Road.  The lock can be reached either via Jessamy Road, which bisects Church Walk or, further along Church Walk, via a small path to the right that leads over a pretty white and green footbridge.

Both routes lead to Whittet’s Ait, an island between the River Wey and the Navigations.  If you follow the gravel footpath beside the public park there, you will come to the lock.  It is a delightful spot, with benches on which you can while away a few minutes or hours watching narrow boats negotiate the lock.   In spring and summer, planters outside the lock keeper’s cottage froth with flowers and it is not unusual to find a local artist at work capturing the idyllic scene.

The towpath begins on the other side, accessed via an iron bridge over the lock. Before crossing, however, it is worth stopping at the lock keeper’s cottage where a free map can be obtained and you can buy a booklet of circular walks along the Navigations.

The present cottage was built by the National Trust in 1975 as a replica of its eighteenth century predecessor.   On the other side of the lock, beside the towpath, stand the stables that used to shelter the horses as they waited for the next barges to arrive.  Now they contain a small display on the history and wildlife of the Navigations.

Next to the Lock stands a development of waterside apartments on what was the site of paper, iron and oil seed mills from 1791 to 1963 when the last of many fires on the site finally put paid to further milling.  One account of the fire describes how the water was alight with the highly flammable oil.

The Navigations are an important habitat for wildlife, from beautiful damselflies …

… to slightly more weird and wonderful critters.

You may even meet an occasional ship’s dog.

Orcas, sailboats and houses on stilts

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I promised a post about the Wey Navigation this weekend but ran out of time. So, a shortish post today and the Wey will have to wait until later in the week. I took this shot, scanned from a 6×4 print, in 1994. We were watching killer whales in the waters of Robson’s Bight, off the Eastern coast of Vancouver Island. We set off from Telegraph Cove, an atmospheric little settlement that has managed to retain much of its early 20th century character. The picture below, taken on the same trip appears inside and on the back cover of The Encyclopedia of Raincoast Place Names published by Harbour Publishing. Being something of a bookworm, I particularly like it when people buy my images for this purpose. I must confess to a few vanity moments when we were travelling in BC again in 2010 and kept finding the book in shops.

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Patterns on the shore

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The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude […] The voice of the sea speaks to the soul.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

I took this shot on Chesterman Beach, near Tofino on Vancouver Island. The Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island can be serene, as on the day I took the photograph, or mysterious when (as it often is in Summer) cloaked in fog, or wild (local hotels offer storm watching breaks in the winter months).

Chopin is one of many writers who have described the sea’s strangely magnetic force. Shores are evocative, liminal places that invite contemplation, as Chopin so acutely, and beautifully describes.

Another writer interested in shores whose work I have recently read is H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). Here is one of the most famous poems from her typically enigmatic volume, Sea Garden:

I
THE HARD sand breaks,
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.

Far off over the leagues of it,
The wind,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves
Break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
Of the sea,
I know him
Of the triple path-ways,
Hermes,
Who awaiteth.

Dubious,
Facing three ways,
Welcoming wayfarers,
He whom the sea-orchard
Shelters from the west,
From the east
Weathers sea-wind;
Fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
Over the dunes,
And the coarse, salt-crusted grass
Answers.

Heu,
It whips round my ankles!

II
Small is
This white stream,
Flowing below ground
From the poplar-shaded hill,
But the water is sweet.

Apples on the small trees
Are hard,
Too small,
Too late ripened
By a desperate sun
That struggles through sea-mist.

The boughs of the trees
Are twisted
By many bafflings;
Twisted are
The small-leafed boughs.

But the shadow of them
Is not the shadow of the mast head
Nor of the torn sails.

Hermes, Hermes,
The great sea foamed,
Gnashed its teeth about me;
But you have waited,
Where sea-grass tangles with
Shore-grass.

H.D., ‘Hermes of the ways’ (1917)

For me, this poem evokes both vulnerability and exhilaration, the beauty of things that by necessity must grow tough living on the edge, whether they be apple trees or people.

Do you have a favourite poem of the shore?