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Paving the Way

Close to home #12 Flagstaff Hill

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

At the north western end of Isla Gorge National Park in central Queensland, there is a remarkable example of  mid 19th century engineering – an isolated time capsule preserved in the bush. To reach it, we turned off the highway and headed towards Flagstaff Road. Wide, flat and unsealed, the road goes through private cattle properties. Several times we had to slow down as we crossed cattle grids and passed by stock grazing at the side of the road.

Ahead in the distance, the Dawson Range rose abruptly out of the dusty plain.

Just inside the national park boundary at the top of the range, a narrow walking track led through the bush to the remnants of a hand-made road.

Constructed in the 1860s, the road was used to transport wool from the western town of Roma to the coastal port at Rockhampton. For this 150 metre section up the range, massive slabs of rock were cut by hand from boulders on the site. No cement was used to lay the pavers; they were shaped to fit neatly together, creating a firm surface on the steep slope. Hand-made culverts drained rain water away, preventing erosion and conserving the area. Six men took six months to build the paved road at a cost of £200.

In the early days, bullock teams pulled massive drays loaded with wool on the journey east and returned with supplies for those living in the remote west of the state. The bullockies who managed the teams were highly skilled in the tricky maneuvers needed to reach the top of the hill.

The road was used until the 1930s but, when other sealed roads made the westward journey easier, most traffic was diverted. Today the hand-paved road up Flagstaff Hill lies hidden in the bush, a silent tribute to the men who laboured to build it.

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In the Dark

Close to home #10 Boolboonda Tunnel

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Visiting the small Queensland town of Mt Perry, with its quiet streets and single general store, we wouldn’t have known it was once at the centre of a booming copper mining industry. Today around 480 people live in the town, but in the late 1800s a population of more than 30,000 supported several mines, shops, churches and five hotels.

To link Mt Perry to the coastal town of Bundaberg, a railway line was constructed in 1883-84. One part of the line included a 192 metre tunnel, dug by hand through the hard granite of the Boolboonda Range. The excavators worked for two years to complete what is still the longest unsupported and unlined railway tunnel in Queensland.

The railway opened in 1884 and was in operation until 1960, when this section of the line was closed. In 1961 the railway track was removed and the tunnel became part of an unsealed road linking Mt Perry to the town of Gin Gin. Several gates along the way remind today’s travellers they are passing through privately owned farmland; drivers must make sure they close each gate as they go.

The tunnel is wide enough for just one car and, while it’s interesting to drive slowly through with the headlights on, the best way to explore is on foot. It’s wise to carry a torch, as the light quickly dwindles just a couple of metres in.

The darkness, combined with high humidity and warm temperatures, has given the tunnel a second purpose, as the ideal home for a colony of little bent-wing bats. At the halfway mark the arched entrances seem far away, and the rustling movement and constant calling of the bats create an eerie atmosphere.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon with only the bats for company, it’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been when a train loaded with freight came rumbling through this dark and narrow space. That’s probably why the bats didn’t move in until the trains moved on!

A Loo With a View – The English Edition

Exploring England #43

Most English loos don’t have a view. They’re discreetly tucked away.

We found some loos with lovely views where you could sit all day!

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A medieval garderobe which felt a little airy

Brougham Castle, Penrith

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A neat Victorian bathroom – it was revolutionary

Bramall Hall, Stockport

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A tidy woodland toilet with a devilish reputation

Devil’s Bridge, Kirkby Lonsdale

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A functional facility at the edge of the nation

Lizard Point, Cornwall

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For him a motor bike museum, for her a café and craft shop

Sammy Miller Motorcycle Museum, New Milton

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It’s quite a climb right up the stairs to reach this comfort stop

Charmouth, Dorset

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Finally, in Liverpool, behind the toilet door,

No view! Just John’s message…

We’ve all heard it before.

The Cavern Club, Liverpool

 

London Walking

Exploring England #42

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I do love London! On our second last day, we made the most of the fine weather with a walk in the city, where we found monuments, memorials and M&Ms!

After leaving the Jewel Tower, our destination was the Prince of Wales Theatre for a performance of  The Book Of Mormon. With a few hours to spare and not far to go, we had plenty of time for sightseeing on the way.

From Abingdon St, we turned into Great George St where we paused while the bells of Big Ben rang out on the hour.

At Westminster Bridge, we admired the mighty Boudicca on her chariot, charging into battle against Roman invaders.

Modern battles are also remembered along Victoria Embankment. The Royal Air Force Memorial is dedicated to Air Force members who were casualties of World War 1.

Further along, the dramatic Battle of Britain London Monument commemorates British airmen who took part in the Battle of Britain in World War 2. The monument also acknowledges those from 14 other countries who joined the Allied Forces.

Just before the Golden Jubilee Bridge, we turned onto Northumberland Avenue which leads to  Trafalgar Square and Admiralty Arch, commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria.

Trafalgar Square is dominated by Nelson’s Column, dedicated to the memory of Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Four Barbary Lions surround the column while a statue of King George IV dressed in Roman regalia overlooks the square.

Leaving Trafalgar Square we walked around the National Gallery into Charing Cross Road. The small restaurants lining Irving Street reminded us it was time for lunch. After a break for pizza at Il Padrino, we walked into Leicester Square, the entertainment hub of London.

A kaleidoscope of colour greeted us at M&M’s World, where we stocked up on sweet treats for later.

Even after stopping at all these places we were still early for the theatre, so we continued on to Picadilly Circus and the Cool Britannia store where we bought some last minute souvenirs.

Finally it was show time, so we joined the crowd waiting to enter the Prince of Wales Theatre on Coventry Street.

That’s another thing I love about London – so many theatres, so many shows.

Join Jo for Monday Walks

One Tower, Many Stories

Exploring England #38

London’s skyline is dominated by skyscrapers and towers; some are famous and are visited by thousands of tourists each year. At a height of 27 metres the White Tower, part of the Tower of London, was the tallest building in London at its completion  in 1098. Standing at a far more impressive 306 metres and completed in 2012, The Shard is the tallest building in the UK.

Another tower, less well-known but claiming an equally significant place in English history, is the Jewel Tower, located behind the Houses of Parliament. Dating from the 14th century, the tower is one of only two buildings to have survived the 1834 fire which destroyed the Palace of Westminster.

Built in 1365 on the orders of Edward III, the tower was originally known as the ‘King’s Privy Wardrobe’. It housed his personal collection of jewels, silverware and luxurious wall-hangings. To protect the king’s belongings, the ground floor had no windows and 18 locks were placed on the doors. A moat surrounding the tower, filled by water from the River Thames, added extra protection.

The tower later became known as the Jewel Tower because of a misconception that, in medieval times, it had housed the Crown Jewels. From 1580 to 1864, it was used as a storage facility for the official parliamentary records of the House of Lords. Documents including Acts of Parliament and the death warrant of King Charles I were filed by the Parliamentary Clerk, who lived in a small house next door.

Occupancy of the tower changed again in 1869 when the newly-created Standard Weights and Measures Department took up residency. With its thick stone walls, the tower was the perfect place for testing delicate instruments and creating standardised units of weight and measure. It was here the imperial system of measurement was developed. The Department continued its important work until 1938, when it was found that vibrations caused by an increase in passing traffic affected the precision of the instruments.

In 1987, UNESCO declared the Jewel Tower and its surrounding land a World Heritage Site. It is also protected as an Ancient Monument and Grade I listed building. Today, English Heritage has custody of the tower, which is open to the public every day. Exhibitions on all three floors showcase the different roles the Jewel Tower has played over the years, with replicas of King Edward’s silver plate, copies of historical documents and 19th century measuring instruments on display.

The Jewel Tower may not be imposing or beautiful, but it’s worth spending a couple of hours learning more about this unique building and its fascinating contents.

Hidden Treasures

Exploring England #37

London is full of historic sites commemorating people and events from the past. Many are famous and teeming with visitors, while some are almost unknown. On our way to the Museum of London, we discovered a small green square containing two hidden treasures.

The dilapidated ruins of a medieval gate, built on top of the original Roman city wall, fill the front of the square.  Even when dwarfed by  the surrounding modern buildings, the 13th century bastion is imposing. The Roman wall, constructed in the 2nd century AD, was fortified with 21 bastions added in medieval times.

Behind the bastion are more remnants of the city wall and, tucked into a space between the wall and the Barber-Surgeons’ Hall, is the Barbers’ Physic Garden. Created in 1978, the plants are representative of those used for medicinal purposes from medieval times to the present; they were all listed in a botanical book published in 1597 by John Gerard, Master Barber-Surgeon.

Each plant is accompanied by an explanation of its medicinal benefits. Some have been in use for centuries but, with modern research methods,  others have been found to have unhealthy side effects.

Many of the plants are familiar to us. They grow just as happily in Australian gardens as in this hidden garden in the centre of London.

 

Meeting James and Jo

Exploring England #36

The list of notables who come from Yorkshire is long. Through the centuries many English inventors, entertainers, artists and writers along with those who have excelled in their chosen sport and those who were saintly have been Yorkshire born and bred. Explorers feature prominently. Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut, and Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia, are on the list.

In a single day we met two of Yorkshire’s famous wanderers; the 18th century navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook and the lovely lady known to many of us as Restless Jo.

Our first contact with James Cook was at the the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby.

He lodged in this 17th century house as a merchant navy apprentice from 1746 to 1749. Here he learned the skills of navigation, trigonometry and astronomy he would later use in his explorations in the Pacific Ocean. The museum’s extensive collection of Cook memorabilia includes letters and maps detailing his three great voyages of discovery. Of most interest to us was his first voyage, from 1768 to 1771 in HMS Endeavour, when he circumnavigated New Zealand and mapped the east coast of Australia. We imagined a young James Cook looking out over Whitby Harbour from the attic window, dreaming of future adventures on the high seas.

We found Captain Cook again, at the top of North Terrace in Whitby, gazing out over the North Sea. Depicted with his nautical mapping instruments, the statue pays homage to his status as one of history’s greatest cartographers.

We met Jo and her husband Mick in Great Ayton, the town where James Cook lived as a boy and attended the Postgate School from 1736 to 1740. The original building no longer exists but another constructed in 1785 in the same materials now houses the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. Near the School on the High Green is a statue of Cook as a school boy.

Of course, cake and a walk are obligatory when spending an afternoon with Jo.

We shared a delicious afternoon tea at Stamps Coffee Shop before driving out of town to Gribdale Gate. Here a wide path led up onto Easby Moor to another monument to Captain Cook. Erected in 1827, this towering obelisk looks across the heather to Roseberry Topping where Cook often walked as a young boy, his thirst for exploration already evident.

There was one big difference between our travel-loving group and Captain Cook and his crew. Unlike James, who relied on artists to make detailed drawings of all he saw on his journeys, we waylaid a fellow sightseer and gave her our cameras. Memories of an adventure shared were captured in an instant.

Join Jo for Monday Walks