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Autumn Leaves

November 27th, 2016

Last Sunday was a beautifully sunny day so I decided to do my favourite local walking trail, the Beeches Way. In reverse this time.

I did this in December last year and it was a decidedly grey and damp. But not today, the autumn colours were out in force!

Yellow tree in Black Park

Yellow tree in Black Park

The walk itself was fairly uneventful, I know the route now so didn’t need to faff with a map. Arguably it works better east to west, finding somewhere to buy lunch is a bit more logistically challenging.

Oak tree at Fulmer

Oak tree at Fulmer

As I was hurrying to catch a rail replacement bus in Cookham I caught a glimpse of the Super Moon. I thought to myself “tomorrow I’ll definitely go out and take a picture of that”. But the next two days were completely overcast and I’ll have to wait 19 years for it to return.

Andover to Petersfield

November 20th, 2016

While I was off work for a while in October I went for a multi-day adventure to the South Downs, and stayed over in Winchester. I lived in Winchester for a year about 10 years ago, while I was working for IBM. It’s a great place to live, but I didn’t do too much exploring of the surroundings while I was there. So this time I walked from Andover, via IBM’s campus at Hursley, to Winchester. And the next day from Winchester to Andover.

The photo below from the top of St Catherine’s hill to the south of Winchester. You can just about see my old house in the distance.

Just outside Winchester

Just outside Winchester

I followed the South Downs way for good deal of the second day. It was quite busy with other walkers, which is quite unusual for my adventures. The scenery was pleasant and the weather really cleared up in the afternoon.

South Downs Way

South Downs Way

Because I spent a long time faffing about in Winchester before I set off, when the sun started to set I was still miles away from Andover. Still, I managed to watch this nice sunset from the top of a hill whose name I forgot.

Sunset on South Downs

Sunset on South Downs

I did the last three or four miles in complete darkness, which was quite exciting and I only got slightly lost. Although by the time I arrived in Andover around 8:30 I’d rather had enough of it.

Battle of Hastings

November 10th, 2016

This October was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Every year some enthusiastic amateurs dress up to reenact the battle on the original battlefield. I haven’t been since I was about 12 but went again this year with my mum as it was the “biggest ever” battle. Presumably they meant since 1066.

Some Normans

Some Normans

I don’t think we picked the best place to watch from, as we mostly just saw the backs of the Normans, but it was still fun, and everyone knows what happens anyway.

Witney to Moreton-in-Marsh

November 5th, 2016

It’s been a while since I visited the Cotswolds. Partly because I thought it was rather inaccessible from where I live now. But recently I discovered there’s an “express bus” called the Oxford Tube that goes from Hillingdon to Oxford in about an hour. So I gave that a try and it was a surprisingly pleasant experience. And from Oxford I got another bus to David Cameron’s constituency of Witney.

Witney is pretty much exactly how you would expect DC’s dominion to look. Very elegant market town with some very middle class people. Has a good sandwich shop too.

Crawley where I had lunch

Crawley where I had lunch

By the time I left Witney it was nearly 11am so I didn’t actually have much time to explore. I took a fairly boring route north-west and ended up following the Oxford-Worcester railway line to Moreton-in-Marsh. A bit of it was familiar from my epic adventure to Banbury a few years ago.

Some typical scenery

Some typical scenery

As usual for this time of year I ended up having to do the last few miles in the dark. With a torch it was quite fun though and sneaking past some nighttime harvesters made it a bit interesting.

Saunderton

October 28th, 2016

Here’s a bit of an oddity: going for an adventure on a weekday. I’ve taken a few weeks off work as I’d accumulated a lot of annual leave and wanted to make the most of the good weather. I also wanted to fix a few things in my flat, which turned out to be a bad idea: DIY is not something I should be allowed near. Never mind, I’m sure the builder will be able to sort it out…

Oak tree outside High Wycombe

Oak tree outside High Wycombe

I went for a fairly aimless wander from northwest from High Wycombe to link up with a section of the Ridgeway trail and then looped back to the little country train station at Saunderton.

Not the most ambitious exploration, but the area was lovely and the weather was actually the best we’ve had all month.

Hill above Saunderton

Hill above Saunderton

Changshu

October 26th, 2016

Changshu is a fun little day-trip from Suzhou. I went on a Sunday in between two weeks of working. It’s a small city about 50km northwest of Suzhou, and you can get there easily on a long distance bus which takes an hour. The name 常熟 is a bit funny: it means something like “often ripe”! Anyway there’s three principle attractions: a pagoda, a big hill, and a classical garden. There’s also a scenic lake a little way out of town but I didn’t have time to visit.

Aforementioned pagoda

Aforementioned pagoda

It’s quite a long walk from the bus station to the “cultural” area – maybe it would have been better to take a taxi. But anyway, this is the pagoda, called 方塔 or “square tower”, presumably because all the levels have a square shape rather than usual octagon shape. There are some surrounding gardens to wander around, but there are better classical gardens to visit in Suzhou, and indeed in Changshu.

You have to pay around 10元 extra for a going-up-the-pagoda ticket. I think I’ve written before about my disappointment in pagodas where you’re only allowed to go up to the third or fourth floor, but in this one you’re able to go to the very top! Though you can’t go outside above the fourth floor.

The next attraction I visited was the huge hill to the west of the city called Yushan 虞山.

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On top of the hill

The walk up to the top was surprisingly long and with little of interest apart from the old city walls. The view from the top was quite good though. The Wikipedia article claims there are “18 scenerys” that can be seen in the area. I don’t think I counted that many, but there’s some tombs, a large temple, and this observation rock.

The land around is all very flat, being in the plain south of the Yangtze river. The hill seems to be a bit of a geological oddity. It’s a shame the day was so hazy, otherwise you could probably see a very long way.

I took a taxi back down to the city because I couldn’t be bothered to walk, which turned out to be a good idea because the driver told me I ought to visit another attraction I had previously overlooked, 燕园 “Yan garden”.

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Yan garden

It’s another classical Chinese garden, but a very nice example of one. It was very quiet in the late afternoon, which made it peaceful to walk around. Best bit was this rock formation in the centre with little tunnels you can crouch through.

I took the scenic route back to the bus station, past these old houses next to a canal which are typical of the traditional architecture in the area.

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Heading back to the bus station

“Night Flower Garden” Lacks Flowers

October 22nd, 2016

So this is my fifth trip to Suzhou in the last 12 months and I thought I’d be scraping the barrel of sightseeing activities, but I spotted something new on my tourist map! The “Net Master Garden” that I visited in March has something called 夜花园 or “Night Flower Garden”. I thought maybe they would have some kind of special flower that only blossoms at night, but actually it was more of a cultural thing with dancing and music.

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There was a tour guided bit around various performances and then we were free to wander around. The lighting was very well done and atmospheric. It was also a really clear evening, and you can see the full moon below (it was mid-Autumn festival).

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Some of the traditional music was quite pleasant, like the group below, however I think the “opera” in the local dialect is something of an acquired taste. The older Chinese tourists seemed suitably impressed though.

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Shenzhen

October 17th, 2016

I stayed in Shenzhen for a week last month on another work trip. It’s my first time in that city, and actually I didn’t see a whole lot of it because the time was spent working and going to restaurants. But what I did see was very shiny and new. Probably because the whole city of 10 million people was just a tiny fishing village 30 years ago.

shenzhen_scale

This is the massive exhibition centre outside my hotel. The air quality here seems much better than the other big cities I’ve visited in China. I think this is because most of the industry is very high-tech and the cars you see on the street are all very modern.

Shenzhen is also famous for its electronics malls selling components of dubious quality. But sadly I didn’t get a chance to visit one this time.

Lamma Island

October 12th, 2016

I was in Hong Kong for a weekend last month before a work trip to Shenzhen. Besides playing a lot of Pokemon Go (I caught a wild Snorlax) I thought I should try going somewhere a little bit off the beaten track so I hopped on a boat to Lamma Island which is just south west of the main island.

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I walked for about four miles between the two main villages, which admittedly isn’t very far but it was really hot and humid. The scenery on the island is dominated by a huge coal power station which takes a bit of getting used to but I suppose fits with the urban/rural mishmash of the rest of Hong Kong.

Here’s a pro tip: in the village Sok Kwu Wan at the end of my route there’s a seafood restaurant called Lamma Rainbow where if you buy anything, even just a soup, they give you a voucher for a free ride back to the main island on their private boat. Not sure how the economics of that work, but the view from the boat was pretty good!

lamma2

Cholsey to Newbury

September 24th, 2016

Here’s a variant on a couple of walks I’ve done previously: a 24 mile jaunt from Cholsey near Didcot to Newbury along a bit of the Ridgeway and through the North Wessex Downs.

I’d really recommend it actually: scenery on the downs is lovely and the detour at the end avoided a boring trudge down the side of the road that blighted a previous adventure in these parts.

Here’s some happy looking pigs going out for a morning forage.

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And this is Donnington castle near Newbury. I didn’t get to spend long there as I was in a massive hurry to catch a train.

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