“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, 27 May 2014

Solstice Sculptures

Solstice Park can be found on the A303 a few miles east of Stonehenge, near Amesbury in Wiltshire. Solstice Park is a fairly typical roadside service area and is home to the usual roadside amenities such as a petrol station, a hotel,  fast food restaurants, etc. One thing that does make Solstice Park stand out however, is its resident sculptures that have been added to the service area over the years.

Six of these creations are part of a six year community project that ran from 2007 to 2013. The project saw a local sculptress and a local business work together to create the artworks, which were commissioned by the Salisbury International Arts Festival. The sculptures are:

1) The Dragonfly

Unveiled on the 11th June 2007, this sculpture of a Dragonfly recycles parts of a Gazelle helicopter. Whilst the sculpture is intended to resemble a Dragonfly, from certain angles it also looks like a duck in flight.

The Dragonfly - Dragonfly or Duck?

2) The Mallow

Unveiled on the 24th June 2007, the 8m tall sculpture named The Mallow was inspired by a flower (the Common Mallow) which once grew extensively on the chalk-land of Solstice Park. The sculpture features the nose-cone of a Beagle Bulldog airplane at its centre, and also includes materials that are more usually used in the construction of road signs.

The Mallow

 3) The Avon

Unveiled on the 10th September 2009, The Avon aims to represent the River Avon as it meanders from Amesbury to Salisbury. The sculpture consists of 105 vertical steel poles which undulate over a distance of 30 metres. The steel poles range in height from 90cm to 2m and are set into a bed of napped flint which is inset with blue solar-powered road studs, to represent sparkling water.

The Avon

 4) The White Horse

Unveiled on the 21st September 2010, The White Horse is a life-sized sculpture that uses bent steel tubing and floating plates of powdercoated steel to depict a thoroughbred mare. The shape of the horse is based upon the Uffington White Horse, which is an iconic Wiltshire hill figure.

The White Horse

5) The Red Kite

Unveiled on the 4th October 2011, The Red Kite was built using welded and powder-coated steel tubing and perforated steel plates. The aim of the sculpture is to celebrating Red Kites, which are beginning to make a come back into the local countryside.

The Red Kite

6) Bladehenge

Unveiled on the 11th March 2013, Bladehenge was the final sculpture in the series of six. Bladehenge was supposedly inspired by the aeronautical forms of propellers and turbines, and features three twisted steel monoliths which resemble nearby Stonehenge.


Solstice Park is also home to another sculpture that was created by a local pair of artists under a different initiative, and this huge sculpture is known as The Ancestor

The Ancestor is a 6.7m tall sculpture which weighs around 6 tonnes. The sculpture was constructed out of thousands of hand-cut pieces of steel which were welded to a steel frame, over a period of nine months. The Ancestor has not been a permanent resident at Solstice park - he has twice taken the trip to Stonehenge to welcome in the Summer Solstice. 

The Ancestor

So if you ever happen to stop off at Solstice Park for fuel or a bite to eat, have a go at trying to find all seven of these interesting sculptures.

Pictures, Wiltshire (May 2014).

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Tour of the Tor

Having never visited Glastonbury Tor before, I decided to pay a visit in March to see what it is all about. Glastonbury Tor is possibly one of the most well written about locations in the UK, and most people will have some knowledge of the legends that are associated with this site.

Glastonbury Tor is a hill that stands prominently in the flat landscape of the Somerset levels and it is topped by a tower (St Michael’s Tower). Archaeological evidence suggests that the Tor has been regularly visited since pre-history, and it is believed that a number of  buildings were constructed on the summit during the Saxon period. There are records from 1243 that show that a  timber church, dedicated to St Michael, was present on the summit of the Tor. It is also known that this church was eventually destroyed during an earthquake in 1275.  The year 1323 saw a sandstone church (also dedicated to St Michael) built on the Tor, and this church survived until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. During this turbulent period Richard Whiting (the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey) was apparently hung, drawn and quartered on the Tor, along with two other monks. Today, only the three-story roofless tower of the sandstone church remains standing on the exposed summit of the Tor.

Aside from the known history, the Tor is also associated with a number of legends.

Some suggest that the Tor is the mythical “Isle of Avalon” from Arthurian legend. A fire in 1184 at the nearby Glastonbury Abbey is said to have led to the discovery of the coffins of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which were conveniently labeled: "Here lies buried the famous King Arthur in the Isle of Avalon". As the Tor resides on the Somerset levels flood plain, it is possible that the Tor may have once been surrounded by water, making it an isle. The winter storms of 2013-2014 did see extensive flooding in the Somerset levels and show their susceptibility to changes in water levels.

It has also been claimed that the Tor may to this day be the resting place of the holy grail, which was brought to Glastonbury by Jesus' uncle (Joseph of Arimathea) after Jesus' crucifixion. Some stories even suggest that Jesus himself may have visited the local area!

The Tor itself is not unique in being surrounded by legend; Glastonbury Abbey is the centre of a number of tales and the iron rich waters of the nearby Chalice Well are purported to have healing properties. If you want to try the water for yourself there is a fast flowing outflow from the well on Wellhouse lane (near the foot path leading to the Tor). To me, the water tasted rather foul!

Whilst the legends associated with the Tor are unlikely to be true, it is easy to see why the Tor captures people's imagination, given its prominence in the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels.

Glastonbury Tor catching the sunlight. 

The path to the Tor.

An information board.

An information board.

The tower at the summit of the Tor.

The tower at the summit of the Tor.

Carvings on the tower.

Carvings on the tower.

Looking up, inside the tower.

A history of the Tor. 

A view from the summit. 

A view from the summit. 

A view from the summit. 

A view from the summit. 

A view from the summit. 

Pictures, Somerset (March 2014).

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Wexcombe's Water

In my blog post at the start of April I posted pictures of two structures which I had happened upon, and had assumed where disused bunkers of some form. Following some helpful comments from the Britain's Cold War Facebook Group, it became clear that one of these structures was not in fact a bunker, but was an underground reservoir.

Having had my eyes opened to this existence of these reservoirs, I soon spotted a few more in the local countryside - reservoirs which I had frequently passed by, but never previously noticed. The pictures below show two such reservoirs along the Fair Mile road, near the hamlet of Wexcombe in Wiltshire.

The first reservoir is fenced off and is accompanied by a round brick structure that used to serve as a pump house. It seems that this reservoir / pump house combination were built in 1899 to supply water to the hamlet of Wexcombe, and the faded plaque that resides above the pump house door is believed to read "Wexcombe Waterworks the gift of William Corbin Finch 1899".

A covered reservoir (fenced off) behind the brick built pump house.

The faded inscription above the pump house, believed to read "Wexcombe Waterworks the gift of William Corbin Finch 1899".

Looking over the fence at the top of the covered reservoir.

The pipes on top of the covered reservoir that hint at its identity.

The second reservoir was unfortunately inaccessible due to its position in a field, but was clearly identifiable from its mound like shape and the pipes emanating from the structure.

Another reservoir along Fair Mile road, near Wexcombe.

Some of the concrete structure is just visible through the foliage. 

Wexcombe itself is barely a mark on the map (a handful of  houses and a farm), so when reading about Wexcombe I was surprised to find that the hamlet had a small, but significant, claim to fame.

In 1920 a man named Arthur Hosier moved to Wexcombe where he purchased an estate. It seems that Hosier wanted to turn his land over to dairy farming, but he was initially deterred from doing this as the parts of his land that where suitable for grazing cattle where a long way away from his farm buildings. To overcome this problem and to save the cost of constructing new farm buildings, Hosier invented the portable milking bail which enabled him to take his milking equipment to the cows as opposed to trying to bring the cows back to the farm for milking.

A portable milking bail is essentially a mobile stall/shed in which cows can be held for milking to prevent the cows from kicking or trampling the farmer (or generally moving about) while the cows are being milked. Hosier's invention was soon being manufactured and sold, enabling farmers across the country to milk their cows in locations remote from their farm infrastructure. The Hosier portable milking bail set off a revolution in dairy farming and was a staple bit of dairy farming equipment until recent years.

The portable milking bail was one of only a few bits of equipment that was developed by Hosier, which saw his farm in Wexcombe become a centre of UK farming innovation during Hosier's lifetime.

Pictures, Wiltshire (April 2014).

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