Day 36: Dig for Victory Festival

Day 36: Dig for Victory Festival

A celebration of all things 1940’s!

The Dig for Victory Festival is held every year in Somerset, showcasing fashion, vehicles and military weapons of the 1940’s wartime era as well as some modern elements with historic flair. We arrived early after picking up Scott’s father-in-law Steve, found a parking spot close to the entrance and queued up. As we made our way in the organisers and staff were all dressed up in period fashion.

We wandered around the stalls checking out some of the wares on offer from the various stallholders, a lot of knick-knacks and fashion items inside the marquee there were a few food stalls and the sewing centre (where they held various workshops across the weekend). On the other side of this was the main stage where various period dancing classes and live music were held, along with the food trucks and drinks.

We tried the local cider, I had a half pint of the sweet variant. I must be working my way well along the spectrum because I found it way to sweet (where a few years ago I probably would have enjoyed it).

After the quick break while Steve had a chat with the St John’s Ambulance crew we made our way to the anti-air cannon display. Here they had three British anti-air cannons set up to perform a live-fire demonstration. Though as they were setting up the third cannon had jammed and they were only able to fire with the two remaining cannons.

After the demonstration we stopped to have a bite to eat for lunch and another wander through the market stalls. Not that I could buy much more at this point because my case is already over the weight allowance so I need to try and keep it within the 5kg extra I’ll need to pay for (or just buy another case and go for it over the next few days). Sarah mentioned they still have one of Scott’s sister’s cases that I might be able to use in a pinch if I need to. Everything still fits in my current case though, it’s just overweight.

The next demonstration was artillery display. One of the mobile artillery platforms was set up as though it was being deployed in the field and was then fired in similar fashion to the anti-aircraft cannons. This thing was bloody loud. You actually felt it in your chest when it fired. Three shots from that and then the crew packed it up as they would have in the field and moved it on to the next destination. In this case the next field over, but back in the war the artillery was moved between various fronts to help push or hold a line.

The last demonstration we checked out was the skirmish. Two squads imitating being a British and American training exercise. The Americans had a RPG and the British had a personnel transport that was taken out by the RPG to initiate the skirmish. After some back and forth between the squads the British came out on top and then the skirmishers combed the field for shell casings as we were in an active farm and nobody wanted the old farm animals eating bullet casings they shouldn’t be eating.

That pretty much brought the day to a close. The time here is coming to an end but it has been an amazing time.

Day 35: Bath

Day 35: Bath

Today I caught the train out to Bath. A town rich with Roman history.

There are two bus routes in Bath, with both routes intersecting at the train station. I caught the inner city Red Route first to see the sights around the landmarks of town and get a lay of the land for walking later.

The tour started by passing the rail viaduct from Bristol. Designed by none other than Brunel. His work on the entire train line between Paddington and Bristol means his name pops up a fair bit along the entire GWR corridor. The stone pillars provide a bit of architectural flair along with the functional purpose of structural support.

We then entered Queen Square and passed the iconic Palladian frontages designed by John Wood the Elder. These facades set the architectural style seen around most of England with the strong rectangular blocks, pillars, and window awnings “setting fresh standards for urban development”. The most interesting part is that Wood only designed and built the facades. The plots themselves behind the facades were then on-sold to other developers to construct the buildings themselves behind the facade resulting in a lot of the buildings being different sizes behind the frontage.

We looped around Queen Square again and made our way up hill towards the top of town, passing the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelly’s House of Frankenstein before reaching The Circus. Also designed by John Wood the Elder, The Circus is a circular townhouse construction around a green roundabout with grass and trees. Each of the three floors of townhouse have different designs to highlight different architectural styles. Doric, Roman and Corinthian.

Construction started but Wood died early in the construction and the project was taken over by his son John Wood the Younger. Wood went on to design connections to The Circus from the main city of Bath as wel as a connection to his own project. The Royal Crescent, a large semi-circular construction similar to The Circus but comprised of only one half that overlooked expansive green land and the main city.

From here the bus headed along Weston Road past the golf training field and the north side of the Victoria Botanical Gardens. It was here that we heard the story of then Princess Victoria visiting Bath to open the gardens in her name. A journalist at the time reported that her outfit on the day of the opening was gaudy. A conflicting story also mentions that it was a town resident who commented on the size of her ankles. Either way the then Princess heard this and vowed never to visit the town of Bath again. And she didn’t for the entire duration of her reign. Such to the point that when the train would pass through Bath on the way to Bristol the handmaids would draw the blinds of the train so Queen Victoria did not gaze upon the town and the townspeople would be unable to see her as she passed through.

The Skyline Green Route took us out through the outskirts of the city up to the hillside heights on Claverton Down Road where there would be prime views of the landscape of the city… Any time other than Spring. The new growth on the trees made it almost impossible to see anything of the city, despite old mate’s best efforts to stand on the top deck even after various warnings for us not to do so.

So the Skyline Route was not the best but there were still some interesting bits of information. There was an old gatehouse that was once used to collect taxes on trade merchants that was now a private residence. The descent down Ralph Allen Drive that used to be a quarry line for trains to carry goods down to the Bath train station. And the Churchill Bridge, named after wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill who apparently frequented the area.

After the Skyline tour I had a bite to eat for lunch, well, I tried to have a bite to eat but when I stepped inside to grab cutlery for my food a seagull made off with some of my chips! The restaurant kindly offered to replace the chips and everyone around my table got a laugh out of it, they could have shooed it off though…

After lunch I jumped back on the Red Line City Tour and headed to the top end of town again and walked my way all the way back down to the riverfront. Snapping some photos on my way before deciding that I had seen enough. I would have visited the local market however I feel like I’m already pushing my luck with souvenirs and baggage weight so I don’t want to go to too many more places I might end up buying things.

Jumped on the train to head back to Worle. Overheard a rather nasty woman verbally harassing a woman for the colour of her skin, thankfully the GWR staff walk through the trains regularly and I suspect they booted her off the train at the next stop. The woman being abused was incredibly calm about it and many people down her end of the carriage gave her support when the other woman was removed. An eventful train ride to wrap up the day.

Tomorrow we are heading to Dig for Victory day, a history day for the 1940’s including period vehicles, period fashion, and wartime memorabilia. Should be an interesting day.

Day 34: A Nothing Day

Legitimately, nothing happened on Day 34. I had a quiet one to decompress and sort out my luggage in preparation for my return flight next week.

I’m heading to Bath tomorrow though, so we’ll have another bus tour and walking adventure!

Happy Birthday Jess!

Day 33: Bristol

Day 33: Bristol

Another day, another city, another bus tour!

I made the short train ride back to Bristol today to check out the town as I only passed through on my way to Weston and Worle. There was only one bus route in Bristol that took around 45 minutes to complete so I decided to catch it twice around to get a view from both sides of the bus (no repeat of Hamburg here!). Being that I was there on a Wednesday also helped as it was very quiet so there were plenty of seats on the bus.

The tour actually started and ended one stop after I got on at the station, so I missed the part about the station as it moved on to the end of tour announcement when we left the station bus rank. As it turns out though there’s a fellow by the name of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who’s name you will become very familiar with (spoiler alert, very familiar with over the next few days).

The bus made the short journey to the starting point and after a few minutes of waiting started the tour, we made our way up hill past city hall and up Park Street where iconic old shopfronts line both sides of the road. Near the top of the hill we passed the Willis Memorial Building, built by the sons of Henry Overton Willis to celebrate his life and achievements in business (he was a founder of WD&HO Willis that was big in tobacco manufacturing back in the day).

Along the upper end of town were the Victoria Rooms. Named after Queen Victoria as the first foundations were laid on her 19th Birthday. At the top of the hill we were met with suburban housing on the left, and a massive green parkland on the right. This was the downs, Durdham and Clifton Downs. The large green space is known as the “Green Lung” as it is a large spacious parkland that was even used as a boxing arena back in the day where men would be fighting 20 rounds of fights. Nowadays sports are more tame, like Rugby.

We then made our way down past the old schools of Clifton College and Clifton High School. These used to be an all boys and all girls school respectively and have, only in the last 20 years or so, moved to being coeducational. At Clifton College there is a war memorial arch built after World War I that requires students to remove headwear and pass through the gate in respect to the fallen.

We then made our way downhill further into the Avon River gorge, a huge limestone valley carved out millennia ago. As we round a bend in the gorge we come to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. A high set suspension bridge connecting Bristol to North Somerset. It was designed by Brunel when he was just 24 years old however it was not initially chosen as the final design. In a contest held to design the bridge it was declared there was no suitable design submitted, it wasn’t until the competition was held a second time that Brunel’s design was chosen. Though he did not live long enough to see the bridge’s completion when it was eventually started with his design.

We made our way through the Hot Wells section of town, named after the hot springs that rise through the rocks under the suspension bridge. Before heading along the waterfront towards the Aquarium and We the Curious, a science discovery centre which, had I had the extra time would have been cool to go in and check out. We also passed the SS Great Britain. The first metal hulled steam powered propeller ship designed by…? Brunel of course! It was called the greyhound of the seas as it was both fast and elegant for its time.

The bus then made its way through the centre of town to the Bristol Bridge, the first crossing of the original route of the River Avon. It was rebuilt three times to increase the size of the bridge, the fourth resizing was an iron structure adding to the stone bridge of the third reconstruction. The final stone design was designed by James Bridges (which seems rather fitting if you ask me) though he left (or fled) the country before the construction was completed.

We then headed through the south eastern part of town centre back to Bristol Temple Meads train station. This time I got the audio about the station. It was initially designed by… you guessed it! Brunel. It was part of his work on what is now known as the Great Western Railway to link London with Bristol (and beyond). The only restriction he had was that he was not allowed to lay any track within the city walls, so he lobbied the Templar to release some of the meadow land so that the train line could be built close to the city but remain outside the city walls, which brought about the Temple Meads name.

Kind of goes a long way to explaining why there’s a statue of Brunel outside the railway station. He’s Bristol’s Escher (for those of you that remember my entries way back in Zurich).

Day 32: Plymouth

Day 32: Plymouth

Plymouth is a seaside horbour town that has a long and rich maritime and war history.

The just over one hour drive down to the Plymouth ends with us seeing the ruins of the old church that was bombed during the blitz in World War II. It has become a bit of a recurring theme that remains of a church were either the result of bombing during the war or destroyed in a great fire.

We walked up from the parking area to the top of the hill near Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse. Which, interestingly, is not the original size for the lighthouse. It was built elsewhere but as part of the process of replacing it it was relocated to its current location but only around two thirds of the lighthouse was rebuilt. There is also a giant war memorial commemorating those who lost their lives during service in World War I and World War II.

We made our way down to the waterfront to catch the tour ferry. It is an hour long tour around the harbour that covers a good chunk of history of the town. We reached the dock as one was preparing to depart, we skipped that one as the ferry looked quite full and decided to grab a bite to eat and a drink. We were lucky we purchased our boat tickets in advance as it gave us 10% off in the restaurant. I just had toast and a hot chocolate to tide me over until lunch.

It turned out to be a good decision not to rush on the almost full boat as the following tour we ended up catching was only around half as full as the previous boat. I ended up recording the entire tour using the Osmo so hopefully the wind doesn’t overcut the commentary but I’m not confident we’ll hear much of that.

We heard a lot about the French, as many would be aware there is a lot of conflict history between England and France. Drakes Island used to be a prison island for French prisoners of war (PoW’s) and is now a school adventure island. Royal William Yard contained a building that housed French PoW’s where French Commanders were forced to execute unruly or uncooperative French prisoners. So there is quite a bit of history there.

There was also a few submarines and British Navy tanker in port, many of the submarines are slated to be scrapped and salvaged over the next few years with replacements coming online in the same period. But there was a couple outside the naval walls for us to see, including a small Dutch submarine that was kind of like a rapid attack boat. Get in, fire a few shots, get out, and do it very fast. There was also a medium sized submarine that provided capability to launch divers while the submarine was submerged. Cool feature, not sure why you would need it all the time but it’s there.

There was also some commercial and private things to see, such as the cross-river ferry carrying cars between Devon and Cornwall. As well as the marina where Princess launch their private yachts from. Princess is a company that has existed for many years and are well known for their quality yacht building, bringing a lot of industry and continued investment to the Plymouth area.

After the tour finished we made our way around to the Royal William Yard to have a closer look as the tour only briefly showed things from the water. We were able to walk around many of the old storage warehouses which were now restaurants, cafes, or brew houses. Walked through the wall portal to get an idea just how thick the old wall is, and then made our way around to walk on top of the wall.

It was then time to tackle the peak traffic to make our way back. It took us a little bit longer coming back but not a great deal more.


P.S I will get to uploading some photos from these days I’ve missed them, it’s just a pain in the ass getting the photos off my phone at the moment as that’s what I’ve mostly been using while I’ve been here. When I have moment in the hotel in Heathrow or on the way back in Singapore I’ll get around to it.