“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.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Wonders of Uffington

In this blog I have previously mentioned the Oxfordshire village of Uffington as the home of the Uffington White Horse, which is thought to be the oldest white horse in Britain. It was not until I recently visited Uffington however that I became aware of some of the other wonders that the local landscape has to offer.

The white horse lives next to Uffington Castle. Uffington Castle is an Iron Age bank and ditch style hill fort which encloses around 8 acres of land and commands extensive views over the local countryside, as can be seen in the below photos.

Uffington Castle's earthworks. 
Uffington Castle's earthworks and extensive views. 
Information board.

Directly below the white horse is a small chalk hillock that has a seemingly artificial flat top. This hillock is known as Dragon Hill. This hill is linked to the legend of King George and the dragon. The legend claims that the summit of the hill is where Saint George slew the dragon, and that the bare patch of chalk that can be seen is where the dragon’s blood spilled (and hence no grass will now grow there).

It has also been suggested that Dragon Hill may have been used for Iron Age rituals that were associated with the white horse.

Looking from above the horses' head down towards Dragon Hill.
Dragon Hill. 
Looking back up towards the white horse from Dragon Hill.

The other local feature, that is about a mile walk along the Ridgeway from Uffington Castle, is the Neolithic long barrow which is known as Wayland’s Smithy.

This tomb dates from around 3700 BC and is about 56m long by 13m wide. When the tomb was excavated in the 1960’s it was found to contain the remains of 14 people, who seem to have been de-fleshed before burial.

The name of the tomb derives from its association by the Saxons with the Germanic god Wayland (also known as Wolund) who was a smith. The Saxons began to live in the area around 4000 years after the tomb was built and the Saxon association of the tomb with Wayland the Smith gave rise to an interesting legend. Apparently if a traveller had a horse that had lost a shoe, leaving the horse and a silver coin (as payment) at the tomb overnight would result in the horse being re-shod by morning.

Information board.
Side view of the long barrow.
Front view of the long barrow.
The entrance.
Looking from the back to the front of the long barrow.
Even though the long barrow of Wayland’s Smithy is around 5700 years old it seems that practice of using long barrows as tombs has not died out entirely. The village of All Cannings, near Devizes in Wiltshire, will soon be home to a new long barrow which is currently under construction. Once completed, paying customers will be able to book their place in eternity in the long barrow - a method of burial that was once reserved only for the social elite of ancient Britain (December 2013 news article, January 2014 news article).

Pictures, Oxfordshire (December 2013).

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Thursday, 16 January 2014

London's Lost Stations

In London there are many visible clues to parts of the subterranean city that have fallen into disuse over the years and which are no longer accessible to the general public. Three of the most well-known abandoned “stations” in London are Aldwych Station, Brompton Road Station and the Tower Subway.

Aldwych (Strand) Station

Aldwych Station is a Grade II Listed London Underground Station that first opened in 1907, initially named as Strand Station, and closed in 1994. The station is located near the junction of The Strand and Surrey Street and is just around the corner from “The Strand’s Roman Bath”. The station’s closure in 1994 was a result of low passenger numbers and high maintenance costs, which made the station too uneconomical to remain in operation. Even when the station was still operational the fact that it closed at weekends made it an ideal location for film makers. As a result a multitude of films have made use of the station, including: Battle of Britain, The Krays, Patriot Games, V for Vendetta & 28 Weeks Later, amongst many others. Today the track and infrastructure are maintained in an operational condition and can still be used when required for filming.

Aldwych Station's Strand entrance.

Brompton Road Station

Brompton Road Station opened in 1906 and closed in 1934. The station was closed after just 28 years because of its close proximity to both Knightsbridge and South Kensington stations, which resulted in low passenger numbers passing through Brompton Road.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War the station building was sold to the War Office and the building was used by the Royal Artillery as its anti-aircraft operations room for central London during the Biltz. The Royal Artillery eventually retired from Brompton Road during the 1950’s.

It seems that Brompton Road may soon disappear from the London landscape. It is reported that in 2013 the MoD sold the building to a private investor and the proposed future of the station is as a block of residential flats!

Brompton Road Station.

Tower Subway

The small brick tower pictured below is the entrance to a tunnel which crosses underneath the River Thames. The tunnel runs between Tower Hill (on the north side of the river) and Vine Lane (on the south side of the river) and was built in 1869. The tunnel was initially fitted with a railway line and a cable-hauled carriage to transport passengers from one side of the tunnel to the other. This was only a temporary installation however, and the tunnel was soon converted to pedestrian use. It is estimated that one million people a year used this toll tunnel to cross under the river until 1894 when Tower Bridge was opened. Tower Bridge (which has a hidden chimney) was free to cross, so people opted to use the bridge as opposed to paying a toll to cross under the river. The tunnel was eventually closed in 1898 and is today used for various utilities.

Tower Subway.

Beyond the above three stations there is a whole host of other abandoned stations in London, as this rather interesting Ghost Map of the London Underground shows. So when walking the streets of London keep an eye open for clues to other hidden locations beneath your feet.

Pictures, London (May 2012).

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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Dangers of Scraping the Sky

In 2008 I took a trip to New York City. Whilst there I visited the September 11th Memorial on Staten Island and the former location of the World Trade Center, where a Memorial and Museum were being constructed at the time of my visit.

During this visit I remember wondering if the aircraft that crashed into the World Trade Center, on September 11th 2001, were the first instances of aircraft crashing into skyscrapers in New York or whether such an incident had occurred before. I was surprised by the answer!

It seems that prior to September 11th 2001, there had been two instances of aircraft crashing into skyscrapers in New York:

July 28, 1945

The pilot of a  B-25 Mitchell bomber, flying from Bedford Army Air Field to Newark Airport, became disoriented in fog over the city and crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors (for comparison, the observation deck where the below pictures of the city were taken is on the 86th floor).

The accident damaged the building and killed 14 people, 3 people on-board the aircraft and 11 in the building. Amazingly an elevator operator (Betty Lou Oliver) was reported to have survived a plunge of 75 floors in the elevator. Apparently this remains the current Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall!

Interestingly, the spire of the Empire State Building was originally designed to be a mooring point for dirigibles, with the 103rd floor planned as a landing platform where passengers could embark/disembark. It seems that this idea was abandoned after the first few attempts as the updraughts caused by the building proved problematic.  There were also difficulties with finding a way to securely moor the dirigibles to the building, which on balance made the proposal too dangerous. Had this venture taken off, the Empire State Building may have been the centre of more that one aircraft related accident.

May 20, 1946

The Trump Building (40 Wall Street) was hit by a United States Army Air Force C-45 Beechcraft airplane, which was on route to Newark Airport from Lake Charles Army Air Field in Louisiana. Similarly to the accident at the Empire State Building the cause of the crash was poor visibility due to fog.

The aircraft impacted the 58th floor of the building and killed all 5 of the people on-board the plane. Luckily nobody in the building or on the ground were hurt during the incident.

Post September 11th 2001 there has been one further accident:

October 11, 2006

A Cirrus SR20 single-engine light aircraft crashed into the 30th floor of the Belaire Apartment Building. The accident killed both of the people on-board the aircraft and the resulting fire injured 21 people inside the apartment complex, 11 of which were fire-fighters responding to the accident. Unlike the previous two accidents, this accident did not occur in foggy conditions and was attributed to probable pilot error.

So, over the years it seems that New York has seen three accidents where aircraft and skyscrapers have coexisted in both time and space. I wonder how this compares to other cities with equally magnificent skylines?

The September 11th Memorial on Staten Island. 
The September 11th Memorial on Staten Island. 
The Empire State Building.
View from the Empire State Building's 86th floor viewing platform. 
View from the Empire State Building's 86th floor viewing platform.
The Trump Building (40 Wall Street) - the tallest building with the green pinnacle.
The Trump Building nestled in a jam-packed skyline.

Pictures New York City (2008).

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