Feeds:
Posts
Comments

The North Cornish coast is a magical place where the power of the elements makes itself felt on stormy, rainy winter days as IMG_9347well as gloriously golden summer afternoons. With that abundance of natural richness it is no wonder that the Southwest of the UK is a centre of attraction for people who celebrate the power of the earth, namely for pagans, druids and witches. You barely could have chosen a better spot for The Museum of Witchcraft than the small town of Boscastle, nestled into the slopes of the surrounding hills and amid rugged cliffs just by the Celtic Sea. It is a proper hideaway, remote enough that no street lights spoil the sublime vista of the starry night sky. The museum is located by the natural harbour in a quirky old house that looks small from the outside yet has surprisingly much space for the display of all sorts of magical paraphernalia.

Originally the musIMG_9352eum was opened on the Isle of Man in the 1950s but moved to Boscastle in 1960. It houses the largest collection of witchcraft and Wiccan related artefacts in the world which comprises of images and books, medicinal plants and magical stones, and various puppets and dolls – my favourite being the Hitler pincushions which drew on the ancient use of image magic to strike down an enemy. Other fascinating displays are the human-shaped mandrakes – on lend from the Netherlands -, a sculpture of the Horned God of Wicca and the dark mirror used by the museum’s founder Cecil Williamson. Apparently, gazing into a mirror is one of the most ancient forms of divination, liberating the creative and intuitive aspects of the mind and enhancing spiritual awareness. According to another myth when a woman looks into a magic mirror long enough the face of her future husband will eventually appear, looking over her shoulder. Never being quite sure whether I am superstitious or not I refrain from trying – the outcome might be quite scary!

Over dinner we have the chance to speak to Simon Costin, the new director of the museum. He tells us the collection is likely to remain in Boscastle for another couple of years before the bigger part of it is going to be incorporated into the newly to be built Museum of British Folklore. However, Boscastle will not completely lose its quirky visitor attraction as the current place will still be kept as an outpost. Luckily, be it magic or not, I also get promised a lift back to London the next morning so that I needn’t embark on the lengthy train journey via Exeter.IMG_9354

Hence, at 5 a.m. on Monday I am waiting for Kerriann in the empty sitting room of the old hotel when all of a sudden I get the strong feeling of another presence just outside the door in the corridor. It is still pitch black night and the stormy, rainy weather doesn’t encourage me to wait in front of the hotel. Seconds later, the lights of a car turn around the corner and pull into the parking space. I feel relieved, grab my bag and run outside. On our journey Kerriann tells me she’d managed the hotel for a while. “There are a few ghosts in there, one keeps standing at the top of the stairs just next to the sitting room where you were,” she says. – And what about the little museum? – “Yes,” says Kerriann, “the place is haunted by a lot of ghosts, they are attached to all the different paraphernalia of witchcraft in there.” However during a devastating flood in 2004 which severely damaged the museum some of the more vicious spirits seem to have been swamped out and a rather agreeable crowd of ghosts has taken over. A shimmer of light at the horizon indicates the end of the night. “Would you like a cuppa?” asks Kerriann pointing to the inescapable Costa Coffee sign at the entrance to a gas station. We’re back in the normal world, obviously.

YSP

It would be very nice just to put sculptures on hill sides or in small valleys, or place them where you think it would be nice for them to be and for everyone to enjoy. – Barbara Hepworth

IMG_9126

There they stand on the slope of the hill leading down to the lake: the young girl and the youth; the bride with a long tear running down her face, the bridegroom with a hole in his stomach; the parents and the mysterious looking ancestors watching over them and the exalted figure of the Ultimate Form (or, as it is widely being interpreted, the deity) is looming. The Family of Man is a group of nine bronze sculptures created by Barbara Hepworth, and each figure is meant to represent a different stage of human life. One of only two complete sets stands here, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park not far from the artist’s native Wakefield.

When thinking of Yorkshire, images of soft green hills dotted with grazing sheep often come to peoples’ minds, or Wallace and Gromit having Wensleydale cheese for tea. All this is part of the county’s character, however a visitor to Bretton Estate will also find sculptures of internationally acclaimed artists such as Henri Moore and Andy Goldsworthy among the sheep.

IMG_9140The Yorkshire Sculpture Park was established 35 years ago on the initiative of now Executive Director Peter Murray and for the first time in its history the Estate was opened to the public. From the visitor centre a broad lane leads past Hepworth’s Family to the Camellia House. A giant rabbit is kneeling in front of the conservatory. Inside, I witness yet another proof for the English character being one of a gardener: “Oh, look, this is camellia,” exclaims a woman, dragging her husband towards a bush in front of the bay window and completely ignoring a complicated steel structure with streams of water running down its blank surface.

From the greenhouse, a windy path leads through thick ancient woodland past the folly of a Greek temple and to a derelict IMG_9146boat house at the shore of the Upper Lake. It was not until a couple of years ago when wider parts of the estate were restored that visitors could get an impression of what the grounds of Bretton Hall must have looked like in their heyday. I walk up the hill on the opposite side of the lake over Seventy-One Steps, an artwork by British sculptor David Nash who works with wood and trees. At the top I climb across a dry-stone wall and look out onto the serene autumn landscape below.

Ten yards ahead a group of highland cattle is positioned under the branches of a wide old tree, a blank expression on their hairy faces. I pause to observe. They remain stiff. I move. Neither of them even blinks an eyelid. “What a brilliant idea,” I think, “and so truthfully done!” Then one of them slowly lowers her head and starts munching the grass down by her hoofs. I continue on my way, thinking that after all I’m probably more of a walker than a connoisseur of sculpture.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Cheltenham and Gloucester with my mum and her partner – a convenient weekend trip away from the city. The train ride from London Paddington took 2.5 hours and the weather was still sunny and warm enough to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds.

We went for a walk along the Leckhampton Loop just outside of Cheltenham with fantastic views of the town and the surrounding hills. The bus no. 51 took us from the centre of Cheltenham directly to the start of the trail at Seven Springs and we spent about 3 to 4 hours leisurely walking. Luckily there is a big pub at Seven Springs so we could enjoy a couple of pints while waiting for the bus back into town.

IMG_9068

Upon a friend’s recommendation we had dinner at The Vine, a pub with high standard Thai food. On the way back we randomly stopped for a pint at the Bayshill Inn and ended up staying for a couple of hours thanks to the live music and the good atmosphere. This is a truly great local pub and we felt so comfortable that we went back the next day. We spent the night at the White Lodge B&B a short busride outside of the town centre which was good value for the money although it was a bit of a squeeze at the breakfast table.

The next morning we jumped on the bus no. 94 which happened to stop just outside the B&B and went into Gloucester. I was surprised how quiet the city was. It was a Sunday but still I would have imagined it to be more lively around the city centre. We went to see famous Gloucester cathedral and the little Beatrix Potter House which is located just a stone throw away in a small alleyway. However, I found the really interesting part of the city were the Gloucester docks with their weird mixture of old industrial charme and fancy new shops and cafés.IMG_9091

Even though Gloucester might have had more on offer for tourists than Cheltenham I was keen on getting back to the smaller of the two places. We spent another couple of hours wandering around the little Regency town. I particularly like the architecture of that era which to me seems exotic yet familiar, as I cannot think of a similar building style to be found in Germany, but I also lived in Brighton for a year, another British town that has been shaped during the Regency period.

IMG_9100

To round off the day we had a curry at Shezan, a decent Indian just around the corner from Montpellier Gardens, before heading back to London.

I’ve come to really enjoy weekends away from London once in a while and Cheltenham & Gloucester can easily be combined in a nice short trip of a day and a half. Of course there is so much more to explore in the beautiful Cotswolds especially for somebody who loves walking!

I would like to share the outcome of a writing exercise I recently did with a friend and enjoyed very much. The idea is simple and I’m sure everyone who writes has done it before: start with a random sentence from a magazine, newspaper, book and continue in your own way to see where the story takes you. Our random sentence was:

He had tried to adjust his door because it was not properly closed and…

Here is my story:

He had tried to adjust his door because it was not properly closed and had fallen out of the building. These days the trouble was that due to all the bombing and shelling which occurred on an almost daily basis most of the houses in the town had been reduced to half ruins. Hence, where before Peter would just have tumbled into the dark stairway of the apartment block he lived in, he now fell approximately six meters deep and landed on a pile of sharp rocks and pieces of wood, shards of glass and pulverised concrete. He lay there on his back, feeling the pain taking a firm grip of his spine and his extremities and blinked at the starry night sky, his eyes involuntarily filling with tears. He did not want to cry out for help as nowadays you never knew who was out there so he bit his tongue and kept still, hoping the pain would gradually fade away.

This is how and where the maroding children of the neighbourhood found him who, thinking he was dead, started fingering in his pockets for coins or chocolates. They were terrified when he opened one eyelid and looked straight at them, muttering a few words that the children could not understand. Two of them, they were twins and the youngest of the group, started crying and ran back home to their mother to tell her about the zombie they had found in the ruins.

Soon afterwards Peter found himself carried by the townspeople on what had once served as a tabletop to the hospital in a nearby city – or hospital it once had been. Now only the great walls surrounding the compound were bizarrely still intact whereas inside overworked nurses and doctors tried to cure the wounded and ease the pain of the dying in makeshift tents, rooms with one or two walls missing, and sometimes even under the open sky. Peter was in great pain and he could not stop himself from crying any longer. A nurse held his hand while morphium was injected into his blood system and a warm and wonderful stream of numbness flooded his body.

After all he had been incredibly lucky, or at least that’s what they said. He had injured his back badly but nothing was broken and considering that he could have ended up in a wheelchair – imagine that, nowadays! – he had to be grateful for what he got. But it was not gratefulness he felt when, after three months in a still intact hospital in the capital city, he returned to what he had been used to call his home. He noticed that the wall of his bathroom was now missing, not that it mattered much as the water supply had been cut off months ago, but it added to the feeling that his life, inside and outside, had been shattered into pieces.

IMG_7851

My friend’s story was very, very different from what I had written and I think I was very much influenced by a book about the Lebanese civil war I’d been reading. It might be a bit morbid but I like it nonetheless which is why I wanted to share it.

I’ve just come back from a great walking holiday along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path where I went with two friends from Germany. We were incredibly lucky – although in Wales for almost a week it only drizzled down very lightly one morning. Apart from that: blue skies and sunshine. I had a fantastic time away from the City in one of the most beautiful parts of this country, the only problem being that it was too short…

Day 1: We started our tour from Milford Haven where we had arrived by train from Cardiff (3 hours) and walked a short distance of roughly 6km to Herbrandston. The coastline is soft and green on this part of the way, and the landscape reminded me of my native Bavaria, except for the sea of course. The countryside is slightly spoiled by the silhouettes of the natural gas terminals nearby. We arrived at Jayne’s fantastic Field’s Lodge B&B just in time to have a quick swim in the sea before heading for dinner at the Taberna Inn, a great country pub with decent food.

IMG_8975

Day 2: The 25km from Herbrandston via the Dale Peninsula to Marloes are a lot more challenging, mainly due to the distance. There are two river crossings that can only be passed at low tide along this part of the way. Around St. Ann’s Head the landscape changes as we leave the riverside behind and arrive at the shore of the Irish Sea. I love the wideness of the sea, the view of the horizon in the far distance, and immensely enjoyed this part of the way. I have a quick dip into the chilly water at the beautiful beach of Marloes Sands in the evening. We spent the night at the Clockhouse B&B which has the feel of a youth hostel and have dinner at The Lobster Pott Inn, a grand restaurant pub with excellent food and great atmosphere.

IMG_8988

Day 3: We walked about 19km from Marloes to Broad Haven, a distance that is well doable. At Broad Haven there is another great beach and I collected some sand in a plastic bag to take home with me – slightly eccentric as I would have to carry an additional kilogram on my back the next day. Talking of food again: The Swan Inn in Little Haven serves excellent food but is fine dining rather than pub food. We spent the night at The Anchor Guest House which was a good choice.

IMG_9006

Day 4: We set off early as we had another 25km to St David’s ahead of us. This part of the Coast Path is more strenuous as the way winds itself up and down steep cliffs at some stages. The views are magnificent though and the landscape is becoming more rugged and attractive. Stubbornly I hiked all the way to the smallest city of Britain (tiny St David’s has an impressive cathedral) although I could have hopped on the Puffin Shuttle at any stage, and I was absolutely exhausted when I arrived at The Coach House B&B. Another fine dinner at the Cwtch and a couple of pints at The Bishop’s Inn are my reward for the day.

IMG_9042

I can only recommend this outstandingly beautiful part of the UK for a walking holiday. The whole length of the Coast Path would take a couple of weeks but you can easily get to any point along the way by train and bus. As a guide book we used Jim Manthorpe’s “Pembrokeshire Coast Path” from the Trailblazer Series which was very helpful. Booking B&Bs in advance is advisable.

royal babymania

For no obvious reason I have always liked the royal couple, i.e. the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge aka “Wills and Kate”. Being German, I am not alone among my compatriots: when Prince William and Kate Middleton got married in 2011 the news coverage in Germany was probably just about as thorough as it was in England and many of my friends back home followed the Royal Wedding on TV.

There was a good deal of discussion on the media why Germans were so intrigued by the couple’s marriage and commentators reckoned that as we do not have an aristocracy as prevalent in the public and political sphere as in the United Kingdom, William and Kate served as a replacement projection of childhood dreams: common girl marries prince, moves to palace, lives happily ever after. (Never mind the common girl stems from a super rich family with the necessary cash at hand to send her to a first-class university where she was more than likely to find a partner with a matching background.)

photoFast forward two years we have reached another peak in this “ever after”: just a couple of weeks ago the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a baby boy named George who, in a very distant future, will be the heir of the throne. In the run up to that event I was being kept well informed not only by such respectable UK publications as O.K., Glamour and Hello! but surprisingly even more so by the newsfeed of my email account, which is run by a German provider. It seems that popular news in the country where I come from were dominated by this “non-story”: woman gives birth after nine months of pregnancy.

Whereas in the beginning the coverage was relatively subtle with just a few photographs and the odd makeshift information here and there (“Is this a baby belly under Kate’s dress?”, “The Duchess’ pregnancy fashion”, “Kate’s 5-step-pregnancy plan”), two or three weeks before the actual “happening” it became frantic, manic and, at least to my eyes, a bit perverted. Without having asked for it I was bombarded with updates on the not-yet-born royal baby on a daily basis whenever I opened my email account: “Helicopter over Buckingham Palace – Is the Duchess in labour?”, “Britons getting increasingly impatient about birth of royal baby” and “The odds on royal baby names – George or Mary?”.

Finally, the revelation: on Monday two weeks ago we learned the Duchess was in labour, which instigated a few interesting discussions at the office, the first of which on the advantages and disadvantages of having a C-section. One of my colleagues, whose wive had given birth to a boy a couple of months ago, proved to be well informed and suggested women should always aim for a natural birth as it was still less risky than having an operation. Thanks to my email provider’s earlier photostream about “Kate’s impossible pregnancy fashion” (somebody must have been really desperate out there), showing the Duchess in a black-and-white leopard dress and a fascinator on her head at a ship’s christening ceremony, plus my estimated colleague’s comment that “being the Duchess of Cambridge or not, Kate is at the moment probably screaming her head off”, I couldn’t get rid of that image in my head of her in a labour room, wearing exactly that hideous dress and fascinator while delivering her baby. It was disturbing.

The second argument was of a more political nature and covered the question of whether England should get rid of the Royal Family or not. Having grown up in a country without a King or a Queen as head of state I was naturally much more inclined to agree with the republican’s views that the royals were an undemocratic and very costly institution, and thus an unnecessary luxury. However, the royalist’s position that it was good to have at least one political institution in place that is not subject to public opinion, and as such not as likely to act in a populistic and unreliable fashion as voted politicians, is an interesting one. I’d never thought about it that way.

Being democratically legitimate or not, the royal baby was born after 13 hours of labour as we were informed by the BBC. This doesn’t mean the media’s babymania is over though: “Kate off on beauty holiday after having given birth!” screamed my email account at me the other day. Personally, I’m with the Observer’s Elizabeth Day when she says she doesn’t “particularly care if Kate is planning to breastfeed or where she buys her babygros” and was “dreading the inevitable baby-weight-loss fitness regime”. Thank God we have an election coming up in Germany, I can’t wait to see some fresh pictures of “Angela’s Bundestag fashion” which I don’t think will include a black-and-white leopard dress or a fascinator.

20130720 - Zugvögel CoverOne of my short stories will be published in the anthology “Zugvögel” in September 2013!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers