Sunday, July 26, 2009

Perrott's Folly


Perrott’s Folly was built by an eccentric landowner, John Perrott in 1758, but why seems to be something of a mystery. The most likely explanation is that it was a hunting lodge for Perrott and his friends to use – a very elaborate one at that. Later in its history, Follet Osler made the Folly into a weather observatory and it was used as such by Birmingham University up ‘til 1979. For twenty years it was unused except for occasional openings to the public, which helped the Perrot’s Folly Company maintain the building to prevent its collapse. Today a company called Trident hopes to restore the building as a tourist attraction; but in the meantime, groups such as Ikon can hire it for exhibitions and installations. It is said that this tower and the other Waterworks tower close by, were the inspiration for the Twin Towers that J R R Tolkien wrote about in Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s own sketches of Orthanc are based on the Folly’s windows, and the Waterworks tower resembles his illustrations of Minas Tirith. The Ikon Gallery features temporary exhibitions over two floors totalling 450m² in the centre of Birmingham. A variety of media is represented, including sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. The installation we went to see at Perrot’s Folly was part of Ikon’s Offsite programme. To quote from their programme: ‘Japanese sound artist Yukio Fujimoto is interested as much in how we hear, as in what we hear. For Ikon he turns his attention to Birmingham’s historic landmark Perrott’s Folly, transforming this 18th century tower into a site-specific installation using the tick-tocking of 1,111 clocks. As visitors climb through six floors, the sound of the clocks accumulates. One clock on one floor gives way to ten, giving way to a hundred, giving way to a thousand with the final result on the top floor being a kind of ‘white noise’. The Tower of Time is remarkable for the way in which it engages its audience; the experience is dependent on our physical movement through the tower as we travel up and down , our steps fitting in with the rhythm of the clocks. The implication of human mortality is inescapable as Fujimoto reminds us, with an abundance of time pieces, that our time is limited. The historical context only serves to reinforce his message.’ We thought it was fascinating and when we reached the top floor, it sounded as if it is pouring with rain. Maybe you can hear this in the short videos I made.

Information about Perrott's Folly
Information about Ikon

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dinner at La Banca

After our walk, we planned to dine out at a new restaurant on the borders of Kings Norton and Cotteridge. Once a bank, the aptly named La Banca opened in June and appears to have been a huge success as tables are hard to come by. We did book, and after walking about 30 minutes, we arrived and were shown upstairs to an airy room with only a few tables, in comparison to the bustling downstairs. There is no difference in the two areas, except that upstairs you don't get the full 'banca' atmosphere, which has two old safes as focal points.
The food and the service passed all expectations. We were neither rushed nor left wondering what had happened to the staff, and each plate was beautifully perepared and presented. We were glad that we were on foot, as we ate far too much and the walk home again was just what we needed after our indulgence. I for one, hope that we will visit La Banca again in future.
We ate:

Risotto con Capesante Sul Pisello E Menta, Cannelloni Alla Carne, Giganti Ricotta ed Erbette, Pollo Alla Campagnolo.
Follwed by:

Bistecca di Manzo con Peppe, Senape E Rosmarino Crusted Rack Di Agnello, Bistecca Ai Ferri, Bistecca di tonno con salsa di pomodori ciliegia; accompanied with Deep fried Courgette, Roasted Garlic Mash and Mediterranean Salad. We drank La Joya sauvignon blanc and the pictured Veramonte merlot.
For desert there was:

Tiramisu “Pick Me Up”, Italiano budino di pane e burro, Torta Toscanella and Panna Cotta con i Lamponi.

Chaddesley Woods

Today we went walking in Chaddesley Woods National Nature Reserve. It is looked after by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust and is one of the largest woodland areas in Worcestershire. They claim that the woods were mentioned in the Doomsday Book and that some of the area would have been wooded since the ice age 6 -10,000 years ago. It covers about 252 acres and has two distinct parts – the eastern part being the ancient wood and the western part being areas planted during the couple of centuries.
We were very lucky, picking the only good weather of the weekend, and set off. We were soon spotting lots of butterflies, and so the cameras came out. A passing warden told us that we were looking at a silver-washed fritillary - not to be confused with a comma, which we also saw. How good was that!
Further on there was a lake marked on the map, but this we couldn’t find, although there were several large dragonflies around. We thought that it maybe more of a bog area as we crossed a stream that pottered off down the slope and disappeared. Just beyond this we saw a pair of buzzards, winging silently through the trees – a flash of cream and brown – very lovely. As we ended the walk, we heard them calling, and glimpsed one of them high up in the sky slowing circling.

From here we drove to the Jinny Ring, a craft centre in Hanbury, which is near Bromsgrove. They have a great cafĂ© there for lunch – lots of choices of food with either veg or salad, and cakes and puds. The crafts are numerous, with glass, woodwork, pottery, art, jewellery, felt and plants being included – not to mention the Chocolate Deli.
For information about Chaddesley Woods click here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Walk on Thursley Common

We had heard that there were sundews to be found in Surrey and one of the best areas is Thursley Common. Thursley National Nature Reserve is one of the most important lowland heath and bog sites in southern England and is about 8 miles south west of Godalming.
From Natural England: ‘The reserve's mixture of mire and wet heath is one of the finest examples of its type in southern England. The site contains bog pools, sphagnum lawns and, in drier areas, tracts of cross-leaved heath on the sandy soils.
Damp areas support carnivorous plants such as sundew and bladderwort, and bog asphodel and marsh orchid may also be seen.
Large populations of silver-studded blue, grayling and purple emperor butterflies can be seen here alongside 26 recorded dragonfly species. Sandier sites on the reserve provide homes for many species of solitary bees and wasps.
Notable birds seen at the site include woodlark, nightjar, hobby and Dartford warbler. The reserve is the only regular curlew breeding site in Surrey and in the winter the great grey shrike is a regular visitor. Merlin, peregrine and short-eared owl have also been recorded at the site.’
We drove to the entrance at the Moat and then followed the posted walk known as the Heath Trail. This took us across the boggy areas on board walk and very quickly we found sundews growing in profusion – both Drosera rotundifolia and Drosera intermedia. There were also sand lizards basking on the planks of the board walk which scurried away if we dared too close with the cameras. Many damsel and dragon flies flew around us with some small unidentified butterflies. Away from the marshy ground, we climbed a little passing into the heather clad hills where the devastating fire of 2006 had wreaked havoc across the landscape. It is recovering, but the heathers still look dried and sere, with some brave new plants providing flashes of purple and green across the rise. There are charred trees sticking black fingers up to the sky and new shrubs looking bright and vigorous above the orange undergrowth and a colourful stonechat was spotted.
Away in the distance we could see the belted Galloway cattle that have been introduced as grazers to maintain the heathland. There is a problem that shrubs and trees self seed, changing the heath landscape if these are not controlled. The heathlands provide much needed habitat for the diverse fauna and flora that live there. The UK has 20% of the world’s total heathland habitat. But what we have left today is less than 20% of that which existed in the UK 200 years ago. Lowland heathland is an open landscape generally found in poor, acid sandy soils less than 300 metres above sea level. It usually contains dwarf shrubs of the heather family, notably ling (Calluna vulgaris), bell heather (Erica cinerea), cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and bilberry. However the term ‘heathland’ can also be used to describe a type of landscape, which may include areas of gorse, bracken, acidic grassland, valley bogs, bare sandy or peaty ground, scattered trees and shrubs and open water habitats. (Surrey CC)
As we completed our circular walk we came to the Moat Pond where we found some waterlilies growing near the edge. We discovered that the name Thursley comes from the "sacred grove of Thunor". (Thunor being the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Norse god Thor.)