Category Archives: history

233. Isle of Wight 1: On Tennyson Down

freshwater-bay-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstone
No rock so hard but that a little wave
May beat admission in a thousand years

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — The Princess (1847)

* * * * *

freshwater-footpath-dusk-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneThe fog is hanging low across the Chalk Downs as ahead of me the village of Freshwater huddles deep between the trees. The first streetlights of a November evening flicker weakly above the street.

As inspiring landscapes go, perhaps this drizzly valley wouldn’t rate that high. But five miles run before the autumn daylight fades is precious, shrunken time, expanded on the trail.

The village street is empty. A fine mist of rain would keep most folk inside, but in truth it’s almost perfect running weather.

the-abyss-cliffs-tennyson-down-isle-of-wight-england-foggy-dusk-roadsofstoneI loop around to find the path, cut into steps above the road through dense gorse and bramble. It climbs relentlessly between the trees, emerging breathlessly onto a chalky, flinty track under a darkening canopy of woods — branches of yew holding up grey clouds just a metre or so above.

At last the path emerges from the underworld and in just a second my feet burst out into a longer stride across wide and grey-lit grassland, rising evenly towards a lurking hill unseen beyond.

The evening silence is different here — wider, more expansive and with a distant, threatening edge. I skulk onwards more cautiously now — for all the firm, smooth ground beneath my feet, there’s a clifftop not all that far away.

Open, yawning space fills the sky, as the empty horizon closes out direction and up or down. It’s unsettling, nauseating — yet an elemental elation fills my throat.

This is fear.

tennyson-memorial-in-fog-isle-of-wight-england-by-roadsofstoneA minute further through the void, I’m a mile or more from anyone who would hear me scream when a dark grey mass rears itself tall and high from unlikely, empty fog.

Atop this wild, forsaken hill there stands a cross.
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227. South Lincolnshire summer: Little Bytham and the Mallard

“The past is another country” — The Go Between, LP Hartley (1953)

august evening harvest fields bassingthorpe lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAugust days are with us now, the ripe Lincolnshire corn shimmering tall and golden in late summer afternoons.

The stuffy, restrictive heat and bustle of London feels a world away from here.

grimsthorpe castle lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneThe landscape has changed little across the years — parched harvest fields and desiccated stately lawns still wait ready for a boy or girl delivering some fateful message to Julie Christie in The Go Between or Keira Knightley in Atonement.

Only the slow progress of the monster machines that gather in the harvest serve to tell the tale of a landscape now worked with many fewer people.

summer at the black horse inn grimsthorpe lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAcross long, easy days we cycle over gentle Jurassic hills. Three miles to reach another village, four villages to find a pub. It’s a pleasant way to slow down and find the summer.

The pace of life seems slow, and it’s hard to equate this landscape with a world speed record set three quarters of a century ago and still standing firm today.
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226. The price of oil: 5 – Deepwater Horizon and the missing toolkit

florida beaches oil risk deepwater horizon press cutting july 2010Dear Don
And so they’ve capped the well for now, although storms aren’t far away and the oil is still out there across the Gulf. I really hope your Florida beaches manage to avoid it.

Elsewhere around the coast it’s a mess, and although hurricanes might spread the oil, a silver lining from experience of the Braer oil spill off the Shetland Islands in the 1990s is that severe storms may finally help to dissipate the slick.

bp poster wildcat road heathrow airport london england july 2010 by roadsofstoneDeepwater drilling is challenging. High Pressure / High Temperature drilling is difficult.

Combining these operations into drilling HP/HT deepwater wells is new within the past decade, pushing the technological envelope while incorporating the difficulties of both.

Although vilified for his PR gaffes, finally Tony Hayward did get it exactly right in one of his pronouncements last month, when he said that the real problem is we just didn’t have the toolkit to deal with problems in this setting.

In that sense, the Deepwater Horizon, just like the Sea Gem or Piper Alpha, will be a disaster which changes the way we do things for ever more beyond.
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225. Running on Roman Road 2 – from Stane Street to Guildford

stane street roman road slinfold sussex by roadsofstoneIt’s late on a summer’s evening and I’m cycling homeward along one of the most beautiful country roads in England.

This morning’s London to Brighton bike ride is well behind me now and I’m rolling towards the sunset on the longest day of the year.

Eighty miles are in my legs by the time I pass the pretty Saxon village of Slinfold, with twenty more ahead to Guildford.

Beyond the church, I slowly climb a steady rise and turn right onto the main A29. One of my favourite cycling stretches, this — perfect blacktop, arrow straight, and for now at least, heading gently downhill towards the river.

This is Stane Street — the Roman road from Chichester to London. Built in the 1st Century AD, it’s more than good enough for me now. I pause to eat and think at the bridge across the Arun. Here, inside the meander of the river, the Romans built a staging post or mansio.
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224. Leviathans of the deep – oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth, Scotland

winter dusk on the bridge inverness scotland by roadsofstoneAs evening falls beneath the deepest black of a December northern sky, a thin veil of dark blue hangs streaked with vivid orange just above the pine trees.

The homeward rush hour in Inverness is a muted, half-hearted affair, and in minutes we’re sailing past the bright lights of the bridge towards the darkness of the Black Isle.

Half an hour ahead, the lights of Cromarty barely touch the depths of nightfall. The white houses of the Royal Burgh are hiding low against the shoreline.

There’s a menace to the silence now, faintly interrupted as it is by the bleak moanful sounds of grinding metal and hammering. Across the water, just half a mile offshore, the leviathans of the deep are waiting.

winter dusk snowy mountains oil rig cromarty firth scotland by roadsofstoneHere in the Cromarty Firth, oil rigs from around the world are waiting for the calmer seas of spring, wintering inshore through maintenance and upgrade programmes to equip them for ever deeper, more challenging drilling as our quest for oil expands.
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222. Cuba 2 – Viñales: Talking ’bout a revolution

revolucion es unidad roadsign peninsula zapata bay of pigs cuba by roadsofstone I approved the proclamation which Fidel Castro made in the Sierra Maestra, when he justifiably called for justice and especially yearned to rid Cuba of corruption. I will even go further:
… In the matter of the Batista regime, I am in agreement with the first Cuban revolutionaries. That is perfectly clear.

— US President John F. Kennedy: 24th October, 1963

Daybreak, 210 km from Havana.

dawn in the rainforest vinales pinar del rio cuba by roadsofstoneIt’s dawn. The rainforest stands still etched in grey, the air dank and humid with half-forgotten warmth.

The sky is dimly promising a future brightening through blue, already revealing white-topped clouds in the firmament above.

Behind me, the friendly valley calls. The massive limestone mogotes above Viñales rise to frame a monochrome outline of last night’s perfect Cuban sunset. I turn the other way and run towards the sunrise.

tropical sunset in vinales pinar del rio cuba by roadsofstoneThe track is damp from unseen rain fallen in the night. The air is heavy, silent, folded thick amongst the trees and scrub lurking close around the path.

The Cuban Revolution started somewhere like this, in the Sierra Maestra above Santiago. The 82 men who sailed from Mexico in December 1956 on the yacht Granma were swiftly cut down to twelve when they landed on Cuba’s swampy southeastern shores.

che guevara mural bus shelter pinar del rio province cuba by roadsofstoneThe survivors, among them a charismatic Argentinian doctor named Che Guevara, fled for the refuge of the mountains where they could regroup and recruit fresh rebels for their cause.
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