Thursday, June 11, 2009

What, a Swordfish & a Walrus - together?

We woke to a beautiful morning in Plymouth. (Seems like we are dodging bad weather - it flooded up near London!) Breakfast downstairs with us both opting for the lovely Alpen muesli (will someone please see if you can buy it at Woolies and let me know?) and eggs on toast - mine poached, Michael's scrambled. We are both over the full English hot breakfast now! Michael takes a final stroll along the top of The Hoe while I have a shower and comes across the local marine contingent doing their morning drills. And while he did not join them, he still got hot and sweaty in jeans and came back to change into shorts before we head off.

We are on our way back to Salisbury for one last night so that we can go to Stonehenge and Michael can climb the 332 steps of the top of the Salisbury Cathedral Tower, 225 ft above the ground below. I had emailed the Milford Hall Hotel after checking their website to ask whether they would do us the same deal we got last week - Dinner, Bed and Breakfast for £90 and they reply yes! This is great as we really enjoyed our stay here last week - the accommodation is quiet and comfortable, the staff friendly and obliging and the food in the restaurant is fabulous - we are booked in for dinner at 7:30 pm.

Oh, and so Michael can stop at the Museum of Army Flying at Middle Wallop! But we don't get to this one today, having detoured via the Fleet Air Arm Museum near Yeovil! Now, it's a boy thing - the draw of things that move!! En-route to Salisbury (via Yeovil) we are amidst traffic that all of a sudden comes to a grinding halt. I mean we are literally barely moving - doing all of 5 kph. I can't quite see what the problem is at first, but after one section of dual lane carriageway, I can see a pilot vehicle and tell Michael to get the camera ready - not knowing what we were approaching, but more as a hunch. Then, we get to the pilot vehicle and as I am driving in the right lane, Michael has the first view of OH MY GOD, its a loco!!!! As I said, its a boy thing!

"It's a boy thing"...pshaw! Well, it did take us by surprise - it's not everyday one sees a 2-6-4 side-tank branch line steam locomotive being conveyed on a low-loader! Albeit, it did look as though it needed some TLC; and no doubt with the aid of enthusiastic volunteers, it will eventually be returned to a pristine condition like its cousin in the National Railway Museum at York, UK. Oh yes, and this was after we passed an old Fire truck drivin' down the road - holding up traffic at a roundabout.

Upon arriving at Yeovil, we find the Fleet Air Arm Museum is located on the actual Fleet Air Arm base, which isn't far from RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) Yeovilton. I keep forgetting, when it comes to museums the British pull out all of the stops. So, further to my glee, we are met by this huge and rambling facility - the museum that is. To allow my agitation to ease (before I enter the museum) we enter the museum's cafe for a bite and a cuppa'. Well, no matter how flash the cafe appears the fare on offer is equal to that of a NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) - stewed tea, re-boiled coffee and cardboard replica food....hey, it's all part of the experience?

Maria opts to find a sunny aspect and sit with her copy of 'Sarum' whilst I explore the facility. Entry into the museum is by way of a double flight of stairs which lead into an alcove with a sign advising visitors they may have there bags and/or person searched.... Fortunately, I'm not challenged with a search or anal swab, and I confidently enter the reception area where I part with my £11 ($23) entry fee!

I can assure you, I wasn't disappointed - well, not entirely. Several of the exhibits within the section containing aircraft from World War 1, had been removed to accommodate the pending Model Railway Expo. Although, I was denied seeing a Sopwith Triplane, Albatros DVa, Sopwith Camel NF1, Sopwith Baby and a Nieuport 17 - however, the olive branch was in the form of a Sopwith Pup and a Bristol Scout!

The museum is a 'living' history of naval aviation in Britain; and may I state it isn't about war, this institution is about the aircraft and the influence on military AND civil aviation. All of the exhibits have been restored to static or flying condition. This includes two aircraft in particular: the Fairey Swordfish (carrier borne aircraft); several of the type were instrumental in crippling the German battleship Bismark. The second aircraft is the amphibious Supermarine Walrus which was designed by RJ Mitchell (Spifire fame). Hence, Maria's reference in today's blog title.

As a visitor I was thoroughly entertained and as an aircraft enthusiast, I was utterly spoilt. Walking amongst aircraft with names such as the Albacore, Fulmar, Barracuda, I was speechless. It was not only the exhibits but the organisation of the museum as well. Each development of aviation was partitioned by 'halls', whereby any visitor can easily navigate through the various displays. Amongst the museum's gems is its Jewel-in-the-Crown, Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde the pre-production model 101, which virtually occupies one hall on its own!

And I could even take a seat in the De Havilland Vampire cockpit, close my eyes and imagine I am soaring high over Egypt on reconnaissance over the desert. So put that in your rotary and spin it John and Gordon!!!

As time flies (excuse the pun) we do have to move on. I return to the car, whereby we head into the direction of Salisbury. We were intending to visit the Museum of Army Flying, but, as I would like to take the tour of Salisbury Cathedral as well, there wouldn't be time to do both...consequently, the Cathedral won! We arrive at the Cathedral where I learn the tour starts at 15:15 and finishes 17:00. So, with this news Maria decides to retire to the hotel and I shall join her after the tour.

This cathedral is truly an amazing feat of engineering, which was to be confirmed by this tour. I assemble with the other participants to wait for our guide, Bernie, to appear. Upon his arrival, Bernie gives us a brief outline on the design and engineering techniques applied in the construction of the building. We are about to set forth when Bernie enlightens us on a couple of HS&E requirements, one is to stay together and not to wander off. "You see", he explains, "several visitors have been known to have gotten lost up there." I'm quite sure he wasn't joking as we were to soon discover.

We are ushered through a very small door which leads into an alcove at the entrance to a stone spiral staircase. I have found with many of the cathedrals and castles we have visited, spiral staircases are not conducive to anyone suffering from vertigo or claustrophobia! We are led into the roof cavity where we see beams recycled from the cathedral at 'Old Sarum' to be used in this cathedral - bear in mind, Salisbury was commenced in 1220AD. The trusses are kept in place by the original wooden pegs. Nuts and bolts were not invented until the end of the 18th century.

Onwards and upwards we climb a wooden spiral staircase until we enter the original section of the tower before it was extended. We find an elaborate mixture of construction of corbels, columns and pillars where the walls originally contained windows prior to its extension in 1320. The windows were removed and replaced with masonry to strengthen the walls to bear the weight for the tower's extension. The interior of this section is criss-crossed with bracing, stringers and stays (installed over the centuries) to shore up the walls. The total weight of the tower and spire is 16,000 tonnes of masonry and timber! This weight has a detrimental effect to the structures integrity, hence the addition of extra support - "to stop the walls from bulging."

The bell mechanism begins to churn with a cranking sound, wheezes and clanks...then the whole tower shudders with deafening clangs of the cathedral bells being struck 120' above us! I can only wonder at the cacophony, should the bells be struck whilst we're in the belfry!

So, onwards and upwards once again as we climb another wooden spiral staircase into the belfry above. As we enter the belfry, Bernie explains the history of the bells - and as you can guess, the bells are struck to signal the hour. We all block our ears which stems the incredible noise, however, the reverberation just shakes your very bones. Our guide draws our attention to what can only be described as a huge running wheel for an larger mouse! It is a human powered winch built in the 12th century to haul the masonry during the tower's construction - and it still works. Bernie directs our attention towards the interior of the spire where the original wooden scaffolding was built during the spires construction. As the scaffolding remains sound it is still used by engineers and contractors whenever maintenance checks or repairs are to be effected. When one considers the spire was completed in 1330 then the wooden scaffolding is the oldest builder's scaffold in Europe!

After the tour of the Cathedral's tower, I return to the hotel where Maria and head off to the hotel's restaurant for an early dinner.
Fresh Sardines with a Portuguese marinade (Michael)
Coquille Saint Jacques Mornay (Maria)
Pan fried Bream with Squid Ink Fettuccine (Michael)
Salmon Steak – flaked almonds & chive butter Maria)
Lemon, Orange and Strawberry sorbet (Michael)
Chewy Chocolate & Pecan Brownie – vanilla ice cream

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