Charming Bath: take a selfie at Lacock

We used our iPhone to take photos at Lacock.

It was a particularly apt thing to do, because this beautiful village – in the English county of Wiltshire – is said to be the official birthplace of photography.

In 1835, Lacock resident and scientist, William Henry Fox Talbot, created the world’s first photographic negative using a camera. The negative was not much bigger than a postage stamp.

Now, about 180 years later, we were taking photographs in the same place – without even needing a dedicated camera.

How things change!

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Fox Talbot’s discovery is one of the reasons that visitors find their way to Lacock.

His former home, Lacock Abbey, now contains a museum devoted to the history of photography.

The museum tells how Fox Talbot – frustrated that the could neither paint nor draw – became determined to ‘fix’ images on paper. After experiments, he took an image of a window in his home – the first negative.

And, in doing so, he changed the way we would see the world.

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National Trust image/Arnhel de Serra

 

Although it is fascinating and well worth of look, the museum is far from the only reason to visit Lacock, a medieval wool village in the delightful Southern Cotswolds, about 30 minutes drive from the grand English city of Bath.

Lacock is the quintessential English village and dates from the 13th Century.

Visiting is like taking a step back in time, with many lime washed, half-timbered and stone cottages.

Most of Lacock is owned by the National Trust and is beautifully preserved.

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We stopped for a meal and a pint at The George Inn, which dates to about 1361, before taking a look at Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot’s old home and one of the few intact medieval abbeys in England.

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Founded in 1232 and converted into a country house in about 1540, the Abbey features medieval cloisters; a sacristy; chapel; and monastic rooms.

As well as 800 years of history, the Abbey also boasts extensive grounds and gardens that are ideal for a relaxing wander.

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It’s also easy to see why Lacock village is such a favourite with film and TV producers.

Its picturesque streets and historic cottages, largely untouched by modern alterations, have appeared in the likes of ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the films ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Wolfman’.

Main image of Fox Talbot courtesy of The National Trust and Nick Carter.

village life

Romantic Bath: celebrating Jane Austen

The grand English city of Bath – with its beautiful Georgian buildings and sweeping thoroughfares – seems the perfect setting to remember one of the great romantic novelists.

Jane Austen Centre is dedicated to celebrating Bath’s most famous resident – staging ongoing exhibitions and playing  centre stage at the Jane Austen Festival, held  over two weeks each September since 2000.

While millions of travellers flock to the springs from which the Somerset city takes its name, it’s certainly worth finding your way to the Gay Street townhouse that offers a step back in time to the days of Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Jane Austen paid two long visits to Bath towards the end of the 18th century, and from 1801 to 1806, the city was her home. For a time, she lived in Gay Street.

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Enjoying the period atmosphere

On arriving at the centre, we were greeted by Martin, the costumed ‘man-on-the-door’ and were taken on a fascinating journey through the author’s links with Bath and the impact that the city had on her writing of books such as Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

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We were given a snapshot of life in the Regency times – the fashion, food, society – everything that would have inspired Austen’s novels.

And to create a more genuine period atmosphere, were invited to don coats, hats and bonnets – while Sue and our delightful English cousin, Jan, posed coyly behind typically 18th Century fans. Our Australian Socceroos scarf added a more modern touch.

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Before departing, we signed the visitor’s book with a flourish, using a feather pen and nib dipped in ink.

A majestic location

Jane Austen Centre can be found at Bath, in Somerset, UK. The centre is broadly located between two of Bath’s architectural masterpieces, Queen Square and the Circus.

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Bath is located about one-and-a-half hours from London by train.

Road travel between the two cities usually takes just over two hours.

 

 

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Bath Romance

Mysterious Bath: the secret of ‘Burlington’

It looks like your everyday railway, but there’s a lot more to the Box Tunnel, in western England, than meets the eye.SAM_0382

The tunnel is a popular attraction for visitors to the nearby city of Bath.

But what’s so special about this innocuous-looking passageway beneath Box Hill?

A transportation marvel

For a start, it was part of the Great Western Railway, one of the engineering and transportation marvels of Victorian Britain.

As such, the Box Tunnel was designed by the builder of the railway, famous mechanical and civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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This is the same man who, among other achievements in a remarkable career, also helped put a tunnel under the River Thames, built the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship and designed some of Britain’s iconic bridges.

But there’s more ….. much more.

They said it wasn’t possible

When it opened in 1841, the Box Tunnel – which runs for almost two miles at a gradient of 1 to 100 – was the longest railway tunnel in the world.Inside_Box_Tunnel_-_geograph.org.uk_-_325048

Many thought it could never be built because of the difficulty of using explosives to burrow by candlelight at a steep angle for such a distance.

In fact, 100 men lost their lives during the two-and-a-half years of construction.

It’s said that workers used one ton of gun powder and a ton of candles each week.

Brunel’s birthday story

However, Brunel not only succeeded in completing the Box Tunnel, there’s also a local story that he designed it so the rising sun shines all the way through the tunnel on Brunel’s birthday, April 9.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Whether there’s any truth to the story of not, Box Tunnel certainly has some other extraordinary aspects – many of them said to be ‘hush hush’ to this day.

Underground military factory

For example, a secondary tunnel to an adjoining quarry producing Bath’s distinctive limestone (shown) is said to have been used in World War 11 to service a 40 acre air-conditioned underground ammunition store on the north side of the Box Tunnel.

Quarries in the hills are said to have also concealed an underground aircraft engine factory and even museum pieces stored for same keeping.

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The intrigue surrounding the area only increased when it was revealed that a top secret 35 acre subterranean Cold War City – code-named ‘Burlington’ – was built there in the 1950’s to house up to 4,000 government employees in case of a nuclear strike.

The huge, unused and abandoned bunker – which is apparently off limits to the general public – is said to have been fully equipped with roads, hospitals, houses and even an underground lake for drinking water.

No mere curiosity

All this means that the Box Tunnel is a lot more than just a 170 year old railway curiosity.

To the contrary, it is an icon of Britain’s industrial revolution; a working reminder of the genius of one of the world’s greatest engineers; a direct link with a world war and the nuclear threat of the 1950’s; and an unlikely tourist attraction.

The Box Tunnel is about three miles from Bath in the English county of Wiltshire.

How to see the tunnel

Box Tunnel can be reached by taking a popular walking trail from central Bath. However, the best view of the tunnel entrance is obtained from the side of the busy A4 in the area.  Take care with traffic – both road and rail.

Photo attribution: ‘Inside Box Tunnel’ by Derek Hawkins [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

GPO Burlinton. By NJ (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bath

Creative Bath: discovering a planet

The stone townhouse is humble by the standards of the grand English city of Bath.

Yet, despite its unpretentious appearance, 19 New King Street is a memorable destination for travellers visiting Bath, a city that certainly isn’t short of attractions.

Another gem off the tourist trail

The five-level Georgian house is a museum with a difference – dedicated neither to Bath’s well known Roman era, nor its stylish years as a fashionable meeting place.

Instead, the museum celebrates the life and work of one of the world’s most famous astronomers, William Herschel.

If that sounds a little dry, believe me that a visit to the museum is a fascinating experience – one of the many wonderful but lesser known gems located off the UK’s traditional tourist trails.

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While millions of travellers flock to the springs from which Bath takes its name, it’s certainly worth finding  your way to the New King Street townhouse from where William Herschel discovered the planet now known as Uranus.

Born in Hanover, Germany, Herschel moved to Bath in 1766 where he was a prominent professional musician and teacher.

He developed  an interest in astronomy as a way of relaxing and was soon building his own telescopes with the aid of his sister and brother.

The townhouse and sheds at Bath  became a series of workshops for grinding glass, turning wooden telescope frames and making lenses.

P1010823There was a furnace and smelting oven; a mirror polishing machine; and glass-making moulds created from horse dung.

Finding a seventh planet

Here, in March of 1781, William Herschel discovered a seventh planet from the sun – to be called Uranus – while using a telescope in his back garden.

The discovery gave Herschel instant fame because it effectively doubled the known size of the solar system.

He was made astronomer to the Court of King George 111; was given an award by the Royal Society; addressed the French emperor, Napoleon; and went on to discover Infrared radiation.

Then, in 1811, Herschel and his sister gained additional fame as comet hunters when they observed the appearance of the comet, Flaugergues.

Herschel died in 1822 and the museum at Bath  opened in 1981.

Where is it?

The Herschel  Museum of Astronomy is situated at Bath, in Somerset, UK.

See how to get to the museum; admission prices; and details of special attractions and events.

Bath is located about one-and-a-half hours from London by train. See times and fares. Road travel between the two cities usually takes just over two hours.

Bath