“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Precision Agriculture

I have always been fascinated by some of the weird and unusual hobbies that people have, and some of the bizarre sports that people take part in. As such, during a recently visit to Anglesey my curiosity was piqued when I was introduced to a pastime that I never knew existed, the sport of competitive precision ploughing.

This seemingly odd sport sees competitors assigned a plot of land, which they plough slowly and meticulously, carefully measuring out and planning their furrows and then carefully cutting the soil. It seems that there are a number of factors against which competitors are judged, including the uniformity, firmness, and straightness of the furrows and the overall appearance of the plot (as well as a bunch of other aspects, which I cannot even begin to understand).

The competition was mostly centred around the use of vintage tractors, however there were a couple of competitors using vintage ploughs drawn by Shire horses (probably much more difficult to control than a tractor pulled plough).

So if your ever see an inordinate number of tractors in a field slowly ploughing small patches of ground with farmers fretting over their work and painstakingly measuring each cut, you may have just happened upon a precision ploughing competition.

Pictures, Anglesey (March 2014).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Beware Chalk Pit!

It seems to me that recently this blog has focused on a number of weird and unusual monuments. Keeping to this theme I have recently visited another striking monument, this one being dedicated to a horse.

A few miles west of Winchester is Farley Mount Country Park, which is named after the local hill (Farley Mount). This hill is home to a folly, which is unsurprisingly known as the “Farley Monument”. The monument stands in memory of a horse named “Beware Chalk Pit”, which is reportedly buried beneath the monument. The horse in question was owned by a Paulet St. John Esq., and it is said that whilst out fox hunting in September 1733, that the horse and rider fell into a twenty five foot deep chalk pit. Both rider and horse survived this calamity and in October of the following year this “lucky” horse was entered into the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs under the name of “Beware Chalk Pit”. The horse won the race, and this victory is presumably the reason why the owner created such a magnificent folly in honour of the animal.

The inscription on the monument explains the story: “Underneath lies buried a horse, the property of Paulet St. John Esq., that in the month of September 1733 leaped into a chalk pit twenty-five feet deep afoxhuntiing with his master on his back and in October 1734 he won the Hunters Plate on Worthy Downs and was rode by his owner and was entered in the name of "Beware Chalk Pit".

What the inscription does not explain however, is how much was the prize money for winning the Hunters Plate, and did Paulet St. John have any change left over after building such an impressive folly?

The Monument.

The explanation.
The view from inside the monument.

Pictures, Hampshire (February 2014).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.

Friday, 7 March 2014

The World's First POW Camp?

South of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire near the junction of the A1(M) and A15 roads is the settlement of Norman Cross. As you drive through Norman Cross you cannot help but notice its monument, which consists of a stone plinth topped off by a bronze eagle.

The Norman Cross monument is a memorial to the 1,770 prisoners who died at Norman Cross in what is said to be the world's first purpose built prisoner of war camp. This prison camp was built during the French Revolutionary / Napoleonic Wars by the Navy, to house an influx of French prisoners. Typically prisoners of war would be housed in old forts and prison hulks near the coast. But in 1796 there was a need to transfer 4,000 prisoners from the West Indies to the UK, so it was decided to create a dedicated prisoner of war camp to house them all.

Norman Cross was chosen as the ideal location for the prison camp as it was conveniently situated on the Great North road, whilst also being sufficiently inland to prevent prisoners from easily escaping back to France. Work commenced on the camp in December 1796 and lasted four months, with the first prisoners arriving at the camp in April 1797.

The design of the camp was based on an artillery fort. The camp having a block house sited at the centre, with six cannons overlooking the prisoner's accommodations. To prevent escapes, the camp was surrounded by a 27 foot deep ditch (to prevent tunneling). Outside of this ditch resided the tall stockade walls.

Whilst in operation the prison mostly housed low-ranking soldiers and sailors, with officers often given parole to live as “free men” in the UK, honor-bound not to attempt escape.  At its peak occupancy the prison was home to some 6,272 inmates.

The prison was only in operation until early 1814, when Napoleon was finally defeated and peace with France was achieved. By June 1814 the final prisoners had been repatriated back to France.  The final wooden buildings of the prison were dismantled and sold in June 1816. Some of these old prison buildings were however given a new lease of life, by being re-used in nearby towns.

The Norman Cross Monument.
The eagle that crowns the monument.

A nearby information board explaining the history of the prison camp.

Pictures, Cambridgeshire (February 2014).

If you find this post interesting please share it using the buttons below.