Above the Lion and the Lamb (part three)

It was past four in the afternoon. We had been walking for over five hours. Despite our best smiles – and Joh’s chocolate – we were tired, very tired.

A home-made drawing of the problem…

We were desperately looking for something – a path that should have been climbing up towards us from the steep lower slopes of the glacial corrie below. But paths – this far into a landscape – can be tenuous things, and all we could see, below and west, was the course of a stream, cascading down the valley.

Searching for any sign of the path, below

Jon was pointing along the line of our high path, towards what I took to be a tarn, set high against the corrie wall. I had a mental picture of Jon’s map and knew that the far glacial wall was too high to intersect our present course.

I knew this wasn’t our path

“No,” he said, immediately understanding my glum expression, and pointing to a gap in the near ridge just left of my line of sight. “There!”

Far below, but climbing towards us, was the path home – seen here with the help of a telephoto lens

I looked… there. A small gulley acted as a cut-away to reveal what I had thought was the far side of the valley. But my perspective had been wrong. Revealed in the ‘V’ was a thin strip of path… climbing to meet the track we were on.

With something approaching joy, we powered up our weary feet and walked forward. In the end, we need not have worried; the two paths intersected not far from the corrie wall – which still towered high above us. We had no desire to sample the – undoubtedly stunning – views from its northern edge.

We joined the downward path – just a smattering of stones at this height – and began our longed-for descent.

The descending path was steep. Even worse, the path and the stream crossed each other all the time, meaning we had to pick our way across the larger boulders to traverse.

In places, the stream would suddenly drop ten, or even twenty feet, turning the way ahead into a partial waterfall. We knew that most walking accidents occurred on the way back from the heart of the walk: when the legs are at their most tired. There was still another four miles of the descent before we reached the level ground at the outskirts of Grasmere…

We were weary, but stopped to photograph this beauty

This is the kind of landscape that will constantly surprise you. When the main section of the descent was done, we sat by the stream – now a river – and had the last of the chocolate and the final sips of water. For some reason, our thoughts turned to the idea of a long, cold beer, reminiscent of the John Mills film ‘Ice cold in Alex’. The idea was potent and spurred us on.

Jon pointed to the top of the ridge, which was now above us and to the left. He thought that there may be a figure standing where we had rested so many hours before, looking down, ruefully, at the bridge… and choosing the long walk.

Figure or bush?

I raised the telephoto lens of the camera and and zoomed in…

Not one, but two late-walkers

To keep our spirits up, we chatted about our favourite sights of the day. Mine had been seeing the Lion and Lamb Rocks from above:

The Lion and the Lamb rocks

Bernie’s had been the hundreds of butterflies flying around a large but solitary thistle bush, close to Gibson Knot:

Painted Lady butterflies

Kathy remarked that discovering that there actually was a path back along the valley had “been pretty special”.

Kathy – “seeing that there actually was a path back!”

Jon remarked that his was yet to come, but he could bear that cold beer calling from Grasmere…

We walked on, knowing that another hour would see us back at our start point in Grasmere.

Around the next bend, a familiar friend awaited us: the bridge we had last seen from nearly 500 metres above our present location.

The bridge to Grasmere

To show her pleasure, the tireless Tess dashed across it and back to collect us.

The tireless Tess, guardian and wayfinder…

We emerged from the glacial Easedale valley and into the farmland around the town. Another half hour to go. But then Bernie looked at her watch and realised we had only fifteen minutes left on the parking ticket.

We reassured her that, at this late hour, we were unlikely to get a fine, but she trotted off, surprising the three of us with her reservoir of energy.

‘Ice Cold in Alex’. The moment will live in our taste buds for ever….

Kathy and Jon waiting for the beer to arrive
18:38 and the best beer I’ve ever tasted…

Bernie arrived back with the car at the same moment the beer was delivered to our table. It was the best beer I’ve ever had…

It was 18:38. We had been walking for nearly eight hours – far longer than we had planned. We had covered eleven very difficult miles. But, we had done three of Wainwright’s peaks and made it home in relatively good shape.

What a day!

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part Two)

We were on the Helm Crag plateau, about to climb up and beyond the Lion and the Lamb rocks to reach the start of the ridge. When you’ve just done a steep climb, it’s natural to feel that you’re ‘at the top’. In our case, this assumption was to prove expensive…

A home-made drawing of the problem…
Above: it was time to say goodbye to the gentle landscape of Grasmere, below us

It was time to say goodbye to the glorious views of Grasmere – though we were to get one last unexpected view later in the walk.

Helm Crag lies at the southern end of a long ridge. My simple picture, above, shows its location. Helm Crag is the point at which the photograph below, was taken. Our Collie dog, Tess, is looking at the start of the path which climbs up and along the ridge.

Tess looks, warily, towards the start of the ridge path
(Above) The climb up the back of the Lion and Lamb reveals the A591 main road to Keswick far below…

The path up to the ridge is quite a scramble – and very steep. One of its pleasures is a view of the A591 – the main road between Windermere and Keswick. Once at the top, the landscape changes dramatically. Gone is the gentle basin filled with the bright green of a grassy plateau, to be replaced with the undulating and rocky surface of a different world.

Once we had reached the ridge at Helm Crag peak, we faced a stark choice: we could take the footpath to the left (orange on the drawing) and make the quick descent to the bridge over Easedale Beck – shown below at the end of a long lens – or we could carry on along the top of the ridge, taking in another two of the famous ‘Wainrights’ peaks – a term that refers to a set of hand-drawn and hand-illustrated guides to hundred of walks in the Lake District.

Above: ridge paths can be very narrow places – looking back from Helm Crag at Grasmere, far below

We choose to risk the ridge, knowing that it would take us longer than leaving the high-ground at Helm Crag and descending to the bridge below. What we didn’t know was how much longer the ridge walk was going to take…

I pointed the camera at the vital bridge hundreds of feet below. The long lens made it look much closer than it was. But it was to be a lot more distant before we had the chance to change direction, again….

The Lion and the Lamb Rocks are visible from below, but it is only from above that you get the sheer scale of this famous landmark.

Above: seen from the peak, the Lion and the Lamb rocks reveal their true size

We had made our decision and now time was passing – and we had a long way to go. We estimated that the walk along the ridge, alone, would be at least five miles. Walking at an average speed of between two and three miles an hour, we reckoned that it would take us at least two hours to pass Gibson’s Knot and reach the junction of paths at the head of the valley below us and to the left.

Our first surprise was that we had to climb, again, to follow the ridge-path. Not only that, but the path that had been smooth and stepped on the lower slopes now became rough and rocky. Walking became a process of carefully placing each footfall… and was consequently very slow.

I didn’t help much, either. The trip was the first outing for my new camera. The telephoto lens was wonderful at reaching into the far distance and I ended up taking over a hundred shots… stopping each time to compose and frame them. The photo below illustrates what happens when you do this and look up to see where your friends are!

To our right (the east) the outline of the vast edge of the Fairfield Ring was becoming clear. The Fairfield Ring marks the high glacial bowl (Corrie) from which one of the largest glaciers carved out the northern basin of Lake Windermere – England’s largest lake.

From this perspective (below), you can only see the rim of Fairfield. The full walk around it, beginning at Ambleside, takes six to eight hours! These are not trivial landscapes!

To our left, the steep sides of the fell showed evidence of less and less habitation, as the ground gave way to the rocky floor of one half of the Easedale valley – known at this point as ‘Far Easedale Gill’

Above: Flashing forward in time… The ridge and valley: the two halves of our eventual walk. The photo was taken when we had finally ended our walk along the ridge – but still had to walk back to Grasmere along the valley floor.

The above photo shows the hidden difficulty we faced: each section along the ridge was a serious further climb; a fact that we hadn’t realised when we left Helm Crag. Locate the second ‘hump’ on the ridge. This is the point we had reached in the narrative…

We had developed a method of making as much progress as our diminishing strength would allow. We would walk for an hour, solid, then stop to sit on a pile of friendly rocks and share water and some fruit chocolate that Jon had resourcefully brought with him. It was only later, looking back, that we realised how much we were climbing in each leg.

The ridge was narrow, and each twist of the path revealed new vistas on the right and left. We were ascending, of course, and could see more of the surrounding landscape from each intermediate peak.

It was only when we realised that we had passed Gibson’s Knot (see schematic) without noticing that we became aware of how fatigued we were becoming. Our tireless Collie, Tess, was doing her best to help us – continually running from the back of her ‘pack’ to the front to keep the herd motivated to maintain their progress to market… a true ‘drover’. The photographer was often guilty of being some way behind the other three!

We took another break and reflected… It was 15:41. We had been walking since mid-morning. We had no choices left. Our only hope was to continue along the ridge. We looked at the diminishing water supplies and watched Jon search his backpack for more chocolate… worst of all, we were still at least an hour from the most northerly point of the valley; in other words, we were still walking away from Grasmere, the point where we started!

img_4570

Would our bleached remains be found by future walkers?

A slight panic tends to set in at such times. It pays to think laterally if only to clear the head. I found myself wondering if we could cross the high wall of the glacial Corrie to our north and hitch a lift from a passing 555 Bus, which would take us back to Grasmere… clearly ludicrous, as there were no paths marked on the map.

Then, ahead of me, I saw Kathy turn herself into an aeroplane and try to fly… so I wasn’t alone. Could we camp out on the mountain, Bernie might have been  thinking. I could tell by her knitted brows she was worried…

Only Jon seemed calm. And he was studying his map, intently. He looked up and smiled.

“I think I’ve got some good news,” he said. We moved closer, following his pointing finger…

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To be concluded in Part Three

Other parts in this series:

Part One,   This is Part Two

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.

Above the Lion and the Lamb (Part One)

(Above) The Lion and Lamb rocks, above Grasmere

We were delighted to meet up with some friends from the UK who had emigrated to New Zealand many years ago. Bernie went to school with Kathryn and the couple had kindly collected and put us up in Auckland – their home, now – at the end of our short cruise from Sydney, last November.

Jon is a keen walker, and has fond memories of the Lake District from when he lived in England. He asked if, during their few days with us, we had time to fit in a ‘decent walk’. We decided that the ‘Lion and the Lamb’ offered the best combination of a relatively quick ascent and the possibility of fitting it all into a half-day; thereby allowing some time to wander around the delightful ‘Wordsworth’ town of Grasmere, which nestles below the Lion and the Lamb rocks.

(Above) The Lion and the Lamb sits at the end of a glacial valley overlooking Grasmere (photo from the author’s own map)

The small town of Grasmere is one of the most beautiful in the English Lake District. Famous as the place where William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived and wrote much of their work, the town also boasts some of the most spectacular and accessible fells of Lakeland’s central region.

(Above) The start of the climb

We began the four-hundred metre ascent by following the Easedale Road, northwards from the centre of Grasmere. The main A591 road between Windermere and Keswick runs parallel to this along the steeply glacial valley that is part-formed by the fell on which the Lion and Lamb rocks sit.

(Above) The main A591 – visible as a tiny strip in the distance – follows the valley to the east of the Lion and the Lamb

The path to the Lion and the Lamb summit winds up from the river valley to the west of the fell on which the rocks sit – Helm Crag. The river Rothay, below, is formed from the confluence of the Easedale becks that cascade down the steep, glacial landscape.

Even after a short ascent, the valley floor begins to reveal its features; one of which is the lip of Easdale Tarn, which I hoped would form the second leg of a triangular walk, following the ascent of Helm Crag and a cooling drink beneath the Lion and Lamb rocks.

(Above) You can just see the surface of the water of over the lip of Easedale Tarn in the distance.

The path gets quite steep as you near the first summit – Helm Crag. It was there that we encountered a group of the local Herdwick sheep. Herdwicks are a hardy breed, much treasured for their fine and warm wool. They begin as black lambs, then go deep brown and, finally, grey-white.

(Above) The Herdwick lifecycle conveniently displayed! Black (lambs) to brown to grey-white

The final leg of the climb is what used to be a steep meadow; but we found that the ferns had overgrown much of the surface and, in places, there was barely a path remaining.

(Above) The ‘meadow path’ to the first summit – Helm Crag

Then, suddenly, the climb ceases and you are in one of the most beautiful grassy plateaus in Lakeland. To the east, south and west are some of the best views of the central Lakes region.

To the south, Grasmere is revealed in all its picture-postcard beauty. The weather helped, too!

The town of Grasmere and its beautiful lake. Wordsworth’s house is to the left of the town, next to what is now the main A591 road

To the west, the twin valleys of the glaciers that formed this region are revealed. One contains Easedale Tarn – a possible return leg for our walk; the other is bounded by the ridge formed from Helm Crag and Calf Crag; seen here in the distance. Glaciers from both ‘corries’ forged the landscape here and south of Grasmere.

The head of the former glacier near Calf Crag – from later in the walk

To the east, the scenery of central Lakeland gives way to the rugged and high fells that lead hardy walkers to Helvellyn and Fairfield, the latter is the glacial basin that formed the northern half of Lake Windermere. You can see why the Lion and the Lamb walk is justly famous for its views…

(Above) One of the walker’s ways to Helvellyn or Fairfield…

We looked at the views and thanked the elements for such a lovely day. The ever vigilant Collie, Tess, had ‘driven’ us up the hill, front and backing the pack as we climbed. It’s what drover dogs do, in contrast with Border Collies and other herders whose genetic pattern is to round-up.

Tess the ever-watchful Smooth Collie

I had envisaged that, from here, we would descend to cross the river at the bridge and take the short walk up to Easdale Tarn, completing the triangle back to Grasmere…

But Bernie and Jon, who were both voracious studiers of maps, instead proposed that we might enjoy a simple walk further along the ridge (that we had already climbed) and a return leg back via the head of the valley and Calf Crag.

It was a fateful moment… and, contrary to anyone’s expectations, it was to cost us another six hours walking, but led to the best beer any of us has ever had…. But that part of the day’s story will have to wait…

Part two to follow next week.

‘Burn after visiting…’

He sat in the old cinema in Bolton, clutching the arms of the once-silky, faded red seat as John Barry’s James Bond theme started, accompanied by the huge screen showing the dark grey rifled barrel of the would be assassin trying to shoot our hero… and being killed by a turning 007, whose gun, though smaller, was quicker.

The ‘ladies’ gun’ Beretta said it all as far as I was concerned. Agile, stylish and highly concealable… It could almost have been the symbol of new and 1960s Britain in a post-colonial world, finding its place in a Europe that had changed beyond recognition in the past fifty years.

For me, age ten, the awareness of most of that came later. At the time, it was just attraction.

Heady stuff. I’ll swear my skin is taking on a thin sheen of excitement just remembering it…

Dum….dum… dum, dum… ding, digger ding, ding, ding, ding….

Utterly unmistakable, heart pumpingly ravishing… the entry to a new, faster and more exciting life. For the two hours of the film, at least…

And the Aston Martin DB5? (Image from eBay – thank you) Wow… had one for Christmas. Wore the ejector seat to a frazzle. Everyone I hated got shot out of that roof. Never did get round to getting the real thing…

See, look… you can tell by the regret in that smile.

So, other than a bit of self-indulgent time travel, what’s this all about?

We’re at Berlin’s Spionage museum. A modern, hi-tech ‘experiential’ place that’s dedicated to the history of spying and its gadgets.

Although it is based on the Cold War era, it’s for children of all ages, and at least half those present are reliving their youth, if not childhood, like me.

Most of the museum is about other things than 007, but the Germans of this fine city have given over a lot of the final hall to our British hero. Ironic, really, when we seem hell bent on leaving behind such international friendship; especially in Berlin, a city with a bitter history of ‘walls’.

The Deutsches Spionage Museum, to give it its full name, is in Potsdamer Platz; one of the main hubs of this spread-out metropolis. The black and white photo above (from the Sony Centre’s own notice boards) shows what was left of the once-vibrant district at the end of the war, after the bulldozers had cleared the rubble.

Like the rest of Europe, it rose from the ashes of WW2, assisted by credit from the USA’s Marshall Plan. In more recent times, the Sony Centre (above) became one of the largest modern construction projects in Europe. It opened in 2000.

Berlin is no stranger to spying. The act of dividing it between the British, American, French and Russian powers at the end of the war placed it at the frontier of what was to become the Cold War. A continued exodus from east to west Germany resulted in the (literally) overnight creation of the Berlin Wall on the 13 August 1961.

Families, businesses and lives were suddenly divided, in some cases for decades, as the wall reached nearly a hundred miles in length and cut off West Berlin, completely…

The Cold War years saw an escalation of spying and its associated technologies. The museum highlights many of these, but begins with the ancient principles of encryption.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, devices have been used to convert one message to another. The museum shows different tools in use in the ancient world, including the use of a belt wrapped around an exactly sized stick so that a different message was revealed by the spiralling text. Anyone not possessing the correct stick would not get the correct message.

One of the early manual coding devices was the use of a ‘slide-rule’ mechanism that allowed a fixed set of small windows (the black piece above) to reveal a hidden message from the set of variable sliders on which it sat. There were hundreds of black ‘master-pieces’, so decoding such messages without the right key was practically impossible.

In the 20th century, communication had ceased to be by courier and was almost always electronic. The exhibition shows several of the earliest portable radio sets – which were an essential part of the Allies’ work behind the lines.

Some of the early military sets had a degree of security encoding within them.

The combination of radio communications and encoding led to the famous German Enigma Machine.

The Enigma came in two versions: one for command transmission, the other for field interpretation. Variable rotors were used to give millions of combinations without the operators being involved in the encoding.

It’s appropriate to be writing this (though entirely accidental) in a hotel room in Berlin on the day that the Bank of England have announced that Alan Turing – the mastermind that cracked the Enigma and went on to establish much of what became Britain’s computer science sector – is to be the new face on the £50.00 note. Richly deserved and long overdue…

But spying wasn’t only about sending secret messages. It was also about taking photographs.

In an age before digital processing, the race was on to produce smaller and better cameras that could be concealed and which would operate reliably in low-light situations, if necessary.

Sometimes, images were taken using concealed lenses designed to be integrated into buildings. East Germany and the Soviet spymasters led the field in this

And not just images, but sound also needed to be recorded. The development of advanced recorders for this market led on to great advances for the general use of sound recording, such as this Nagra SNS recorder in a briefcase – revolutionary at the time and subsequently a standard in quality and portability.

Of course, weaponry features in the tech needed by spies. Sometimes that takes an unexpected form. This Russian ‘frogman’ is equipped with an underwater ‘scooter’ and a bomb…

We visited the Spionage on a day when the museum was filled with children, so many of the interactive visits were crowded and unavailable. We left them to it, remembering, fondly…

Finishing off with a friendly look at our own James Bond, we settled for a coffee.

Directly outside the museum there is a single stretch of the Berlin Wall remaining. It’s popular for visitor photographs.

The place of the actual wall is marked by a line of twin cobbles that runs through the whole city; ensuring that the hateful wall is never forgotten and ensuring that Berlin always remembers its post-Nazi dedication to peace and international diplomacy.

We wish it well. It’s one of our favourite cities.

The hated wall fell in 1989. West Germany had a long-standing plan to reunify the country and set about it immediately – regardless of the cost.

©Stephen Tanham

Hands of the Future

It was cold, very cold on that Friday… just five days ago.

Across the road, people were trickling out of the railway station and along the busy main road through Penrith. Three hours from now it would fill with commuters both leaving and arriving in the Cumbrian town on the main west-coast line to Glasgow.

But not yet…

“Full Circle: Finding the Way Home’ was the name of the Silent Eye’s weekend workshop. The town of Penrith its base for the three days; and the bitter Cumbrian wind was seeing it start in true local style. The land of lakes and mountains was mounting a traditional Winter welcome…

Nine of us had Penrith Castle to ourselves and I was standing by the English Heritage notice-board quite stunned by what I was looking at. The word ‘Cycles” had just taken on a quite different meaning, and I was staring at an astonishing piece of cyclic history in the cold quiet of a ruined castle.

There is very little of Penrith Castle remaining, but the surviving walls delineate a modest fortification, likely built by Ralph Neville, who, at the end of the 14th century, was England’s chief defender against the Scots. He was granted the manor of Penrith in 1396, becoming Warden of the West March. A days’ march would take his troops to the border with Scotland, that forever foe… But, the history before me had nothing to do with the Scots.

Much of the castle’s interior construction was to do with comfort – something the freezing winds brought home to us on that bitter Friday afternoon. The English Heritage illustrations clearly show that the raised interior structure of stone and wood was devoted to the provision of sheltered ‘apartments’.

(Above – a plan of the interior of Penrith Castle as it was in the 15th century. ©English Heritage and photographed from their information board)

The castle is built on a high plateau which affords commanding views of everything around; but the highest point on the hill is actually 170 metres away. It is most likely that the location was chosen because it was the site of a former Roman fort, whose existing banks and ditches could be used in its construction.

In turn, and given its commanding position, the Roman fort may well have been built on the site of a more ancient settlement – possibly a pagan temple linked with the landscape.

One of the central aspects of the weekend – beautifully envisaged by Sue and Stuart – was to examine whether the so-called Ley Lines of energy that criss-cross the Earth’s surface – and are strongly associated with places we view as sacred landscapes – could be felt. It’s easy to be fanciful with these things; much harder to let go our ordinary sensitivity to a place and genuinely feel its effects without superimposing our subjective feelings.

The castle demonstrated Ralph Neville’s powerful position over this wild part of what is now Cumbria. His son, Richard, began the improvements shown on the English Heritage schematic, but they were finished by another man, to whom the castle was granted in 1471. Richard, Duke of Gloucester (1452-85) is known to history as King Richard III…. His bones would eventually, and ignominiously, be found beneath a car park in Leicester. As Sheriff of Cumberland, Richard lived at Penrith Castle between 1471 and 1485, during which time the improvements to the castle were completed.

But, in the great cycle of history, Richard III, last of the Plantagenets, died in a place called Bosworth Field, after a battle with a Welsh upstart and his army. That upstart was named Henry; and he became King Henry VII of England – the founder of the Tudor dynasty and the father of Henry VIII.

I was standing in the home of the last ‘old king’ of England at the end of an era that had included the Wars of the Roses – a cycle that would be swept away by the energy and, often, barbarism, of the coming Tudor age. It was a vivid illustration of how our lives are governed by larger cycles, and that home can be a long way away…

Our Silent Eye Weekend had truly begun.

©Stephen Tanham.

Whispers of Babylon

It is unlike anything you’ve seen before. If you were raised, like I was, on sci-fi, you’ll recognise the soaring structures that look like other-worldly trees; whose job is to be a framework for a vast array of green life embedded in the vertical lattices.

Those paintings were by Christopher Fosse, whose futuristic artwork graced the covers of many of the sci-fi novels of the 1970s and 80s. Yet, here, they are made real and carry a message far more important than most found in that genre: they speak of botanical science made hope…

We’re at Gardens by the Bay, on Singapore’s southern tip. It’s a vast set of interlinked gardens and walkways with the combination of these ‘trees’ and two vast domes dominating the skyline. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Singapore, you will know how ‘green’ the city is – in every way. The founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is said to have transformed this tiny island city state from a third to a first-world country in a single generation. He did it with a brutal determination to take Singapore into a new future, and not have it left behind from the growth of his country’s near-neighbours to the north-east: Malaysia and China.

Even Changi airport is a garden…

One of the core components of Lee’s vision was that it would become a garden city, festooned with green wherever you looked. That vision was rigorously applied, though many would say that there are as many shops as trees… Everywhere you look there is greenery; but the vision comes to life in the most vivid way in the concentrated force of cultured nature that is Gardens by the Bay.

Gardens by the Bay is a nature park that takes up over one hundred hectares of reclaimed land in the central region of Singapore, next to the Marina Reservoir. The park consists of three waterfront gardens: Bay South, Bay East and and Bay Central.

Singapore has a team of professionals who are responsible for the ‘greening’ of the city. This team became the core of a vast project to create this futuristic landscape which, on completion, would offer educational as well as botanical aspects. Singapore was already served with its traditional Botanical garden of world-renown, including the famous orchid house (see later blog). It was important to create a different ‘feel’ to the new gardens; one that would attract younger people to whom the story could interweave with the ideas of global responsibility in culturing and protecting ecosystems.

The team responsible were drawn from the disciplines of: landscape gardening, designers, horticulturists, arborists, engineers and plant specialists. Their goal was to create an environment for which all the people of Singapore – and their international visitors – would feel a sense of ownership. In this way the larger ideal of a ‘Garden Earth’ could be combined with the local objectives.

Botany and horticulture can seem boring to children, though their experience of green spaces is always one of delight. Gardens by the Bay sets out to change the level of involvement by presenting the plant kingdom in a new way, entertaining all visitors with sections devoted to habitats from all over the world, not just the tropical gardens of native Singapore – which is close to the equator. These habitats range from species in cool, temperate climates to tropical rain forests.

Having entered through the vertical space of the giant inverted cone structures – the Supertree Grove – the first of the giant domes, Flower Dome, lies before you, displaying the varied habitats, including deserts. The visitor ranges through gardens set at different heights, the design exploiting the vertical as well as the horizontal space.

The personal journey is supplemented by the use of local cultural images – particularly animals that feature in stories across this part of Asia. Giants crocodiles and dragons lurk and fly through the walkways…

I found one particular feature of the Flower Dome very moving. It is called ‘La Famille Voyageurs’ (the travelling family) and was donated by Changi Airport. It consists of a family of international tourists who are visiting Gardens by the Bay as the last part of their holiday, prior to flying out. They are each carrying their wheeled suitcases, but parts of their bodies are missing… you can see through the spaces made. The symbolism is that Gardens by the Bay moves you so much that you end up leaving a bit of you behind… Such a lovely theme for an art piece.

You could spend a day in the Flower Dome, alone. But a dramatic experience awaits the visitor to its sister space: the Cloud Forest.

The Cloud Forest dome has a peculiar shape. It’s only when you get inside that you realise why…

Look at the tiny figures on the left platform to get the scale of it! The whole dome is taken up by a rain-forest mountain. The concept is breathtaking…

To visit the Cloud Forest, you take a lift to the peak (The Lost World) and follow the walkways down, curving around the mountain’s flanks as you descend. It’s an idea pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright with the Guggenheim in New York, but the latter abandoned the vertical downward approach as it could not cope with visitor volume. Here, it works beautifully.

The rainforest is said to be the ‘lungs of the planet’. Within Cloud Forest, you see every aspects of them and their habitats, weaving in and out of the living forest at every level. It’s so very moving that, by the time you get to the lower levels, people are simply silent in contemplation of what they are experiencing…

A short blog is not sufficient space to describe the Gardens by the Bay. I have barely scratched the surface in this piece, but I hope to have conveyed something of its vision and splendour.

Soon we were walking back through the gardens towards the excellent, air-conditioned MRT Metro system to return to our hotel. As we left the park, I thought back to the sculpture donated by Changi Airport: La Famille de Voyageurs, by Bruno Catalano.

I love Singapore. I need little excuse to want to visit it, again. But the Gardens by the Bay are special and should be on every visitor’s itinerary. Part of me would, indeed, be left behind in this place, and I hope to be able to return, soon, to share again in the vision of this most inspired creation.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham.

Photos by the author.

Antipodean Fragments: Harry’s Cafe de Wheels

In the old black and white photo, the colonel is eating… a pie. He’s more associated with Kentucky’s fried chicken, but here it’s a pie. It was taken a long time ago (1972) and the iconic fried chicken man is clearly enjoying himself doing something different.

The Colonel’s faded picture is mounted on the silver walls of an amazing creation in front of us called Harry’s Cafe de Wheels… There’s a story to the name which we’ll get to in a moment. First, though, I have to convey something about the place in which this pie-selling time machine lives…

Imagine you’re eating your Harry’s pie on one of the bar-stools – the only furniture around Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. We’re located on one of Sydney’s secondary harbour fronts in the Woollomoolloo district. It’s a half hour walk from the bustling centre of the city and is famous for the historic dock that, in its heyday, shipped most of Sydney’s cargo and passengers.

After much rancorous tussling by the local population, the huge Woolloomooloo dock was saved from demolition and restored into a trendy hotel, gallery and private apartments plus marina. We’re staying in the hotel part – the Ovolo – which is lovely, innovative and surprisingly inexpensive. But then you have to put up with the struggle to say that you’re “staying at the Ovolo at Woolloomooloo…”

Russell Crowe lives here. At the end of the old cargo pier is a most expensive part of the waterfront, where the actor’s penthouse (below) is reported to have cost AUS$25M… Beyond his dwelling is a glimpse of the CBD – Central Business District; every Australian city seems to have one. Through the trees in the right foreground is a really good view of the Sydney Opera House, which will feature in other posts.

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels lies at the pivot between the restored cargo dock and the modern naval base. You can walk right past the base and round to the King’s Cross section of town, but photographs of that part of the base are prohibited.

It’s a miracle that the Woolloomoloo dock survived at all, but it’s an even bigger one that Harry’s Cafe de Wheels is still there. It’s not palatial, now, but, in the beginning, it was just a small mobile pie van, as the black and white photo, below – dated 1939 – shows.

The longer it survived, the more famous it became. The new building was established in 1945, and has been feeding Sydney-folk and their visitors ever since. It’s not on the main tourist trail, and we only found it because it was next to our hotel – which we had deliberately chosen because of its off-centre location. In 2015, Harry’s celebrated its 70th anniversary.

The old dock building, next door, also has space for regular exhibitions of art and photography. The piece below is by Ludwig Mlcek, and is titled ‘Ring of Passion’. It was one of about twenty such works within the expanse of the old wharf – shared with the Ovolo hotel and Russell Crowe.

For me, Harry’s Cafe de Wheels was the star of the show. Apparently, it still commands queues around the block on a busy Saturday night – often very late into night. In this hi-tech age, there’s something wonderful about that…

And the name? When the original street licence was granted, it was for a mobile cafe. So, when Harry upgraded his pie palace, it had to retain its wheels – even though it never moves. Harry added ‘de Wheels’ as an amusing qualification. No-one would think of threatening it now…

Of all the sights we saw in our visit to Australia and New Zealand, none stuck in my memory with such fondness as Harry’s Cafe de Wheels… and his pie was delicious.

Other posts in our antipodean adventure:

The Art of Dark Departure

The People’s Wharf

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness.

The Silent Eye is a not-for-profit organisation that provides distance learning courses for the deepening of self understanding.

Spaceships and Chewing Gum

I am in a hotel room in Singapore. It’s 05.02 and I’ve been awake for three hours. Beside me, my wife, Bernie, has also give up trying to sleep and is sitting up drinking the tea I have just made. Having failed to sleep for most of the night, she has joined me in a plan to take an early breakfast as soon as the hotel’s facilities come back to life.

Jet lag is brutal…

For the past two hours, I have been reading a sci-fi book called Endymion, by one of my favourite authors, Dan Simmons. The book – which is the third in the Hyperion series – begins with a man, who has survived his execution, finding a spaceship. It’s obviously made my night-fevered brain think about the greater meaning of the word ‘Spaceship’. My generation used to talk a lot about ‘Spaceship Earth’. But that was back in the days when ecology was the main focus of working together, and we hadn”t declared war on one of the most fundamentally important gases in nature’s construction of life on Earth.

I’ve been propped up in bed with the room’s lights off. I even turned down the brightness on the screen so as not to wake my love, who was manfully… womanfully, I suppose – but futilely – trying to wrestle a few more hours sleep from the swiftly passing Singapore night.

We are passing through through, too – on our way to Australia. We have broken our journey for a few days to revisit one of my favourite places on the planet. Singapore is a spaceship, a very beautiful island city-state perched at the end of the Malaysian landmass. The people are drawn from a mixture of sources: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian. They are some of the most pleasant and friendly people I have ever met. They are intelligent, caring and thoughtful. Their racial admixture, combined with a common enemy – space and natural resources – may well be what has made them that way. Metaphorically, they have changed their small country into a spaceship; and it works…

Singapore is one of the safest countries on Earth to visit. It’s a clean city and full of shops – and gardens. Shopping is the national hobby, as far as I can see. I can only take so much shopping, but, fortunately, Bernie is an horticulturalist and always wants to visit most, if not all, of the world’s famous gardens on our travels. A short time from now, having startled the staff in the hotel, and figured out the local metro system, she intends that we are first through the gate of the spectacular Gardens by the Bay a few miles south of where we are staying. It’s one of two such planned visits; the other being the famous Botanical Garden. You can tell a lot about a city from its gardens.

I shall create a blog for both these visits, as I know many readers are interested.

There is no litter in Singapore. The former ‘authoritarian’ regime which founded modern Singapore, led by the famous Lee Kuan Yew, transformed this tiny state from a third to a first-world state in a single generation. Along the way his government instilled into its people the need to work together to create a lasting approach to scarce resources. A big part of that was accepting certain disciplines; among them no smoking in public, big and enforced fines for littering, and a total ban on public use of chewing gum. There were, and are, many more.

Contrast Singapore’s pavements with any city in Britain and you’ll see why such a simple idea as the chewing gum ban is a good idea… The other side of Lee’s coin was enormous investment in infrastructure, especially transportation.

We are en route to Aldelaide, where my eldest son, his wife, and, presently, our only grandchildren live. Their parents are both doctors, having been trained in England then coming to believe, in the heat of the past few years of Government vs NHS politics, that they could provide a better world for their kids by emigrating to Australia. From a parental point of view it was a sad moment, but I understand their logic. They seem to be making a great success of it and I wish them well. We are only able to see the grandchildren once every couple of years… But ‘it is what it is’ and we have to make the best of it… and I’ll not suppress a sarcastic snort at the next person who tells me that ‘Skype’ is a good alternative to the transcendent delight of holding your children’s children…

We have a beautiful Collie and a beloved – and somewhat exotic – rescue cat. We love them for what they are and not as grandchildren substitutes – which they both predated. They are both in spaceships, too. The dog is with my cousin and her husband – thank you, so much! – so we only have to fret a few times a day. The cat is with a former kennel-maid who has set up her own business to provide home-based residency during her customers’ travels.

There will be hell to pay when we get home… And, it’s very difficult to forget that look in their eyes when they figure out you’re abandoning them, again.

We came here in a spaceship – a beautiful Airbus with good air quality and a high ceiling. Economy seating is never totally comfortable, but the Singapore Airlines cabin crew looked after us better than any other group of ‘service workers’ that I can ever remember. Maybe they are so good at it because they have been raised in a culture and an economy that understands that a problem is everybody’s problem; and that riches based on success are great, but do not exempt you from active caring.

Thank you, Singapore. Thank you for being as I remembered you from my business trip, fifteen years ago. I love your spaceship-state. I think I’m going to adore your gardens. If I was asked to nominate a future-facing country, I’d nominate you… And I know lots of other people who would, too.

I’ll stop the sleep-deprived rambling, now. Hopefully, my wakefulness will last till the afternoon, when we can steal a couple of hours’ sleep back from the jet lag. We’ll sleep peacefully, protected by this fine island city-state and free from chewing gum on our soles.

©Stephen Tanham