“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.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Clocking the Earth as the Centre of the Universe

Here is another Church based oddity, this time from Wimborne Minster in Dorset.

Prior to Nicolaus Copernicus' 16th Century predictive mathematical model of the Solar System, that showed how the planets orbited the Sun, it was widely believed that the Earth was the centre of the Solar System and even the Universe. Wimborne Minster's astronomical clock, which is estimated to date from around 1320, is a relic from this pre-Copernican era.

On the face of the clock the Earth is show as a blue/green sphere which is positioned in the very centre of the clock face. The Sun, which is a gold emblem painted on a black disc, revolves around the perimeter of the clock's face and indicates the hour of the day as it orbits the Earth. Between the Earth and the Sun there is another sphere which has one hemisphere painted black, and one hemisphere painted gold. This black/gold sphere represents the Moon, and as it orbits the Earth it depicts the Moon's lunar phases. At full moon the sphere's golden hemisphere is on display, and at new moon the sphere shows its black side in its entirety. Intermediate phases of the Moon are shown by a display of varying proportions of the black/gold hemispheres.

Some say that as the clock dates from 1320 it is amongst some of the oldest working clocks in the world,  a group which includes clocks from Salisbury Cathedral and Beauvais Cathedral in France. It is also suggested that the clock was built by a Glastonbury Monk, Peter Lightfoot, who was also responsible for building a similar pre-Copernican clock for Wells Cathedral.

Wimborne Minster.

Looking towards the clock in the West Tower.

The clock.

Wimborne's pre-Copernican clock is not the only item of interest inside Wimborne Minster. The Minster is also home to a coffin which has a rather odd looking date inscribed on it. The coffin was commissioned by local eccentric Anthony Ettrick, who seemed to be convinced that he would die in 1693 and he had the coffin inscribed in anticipation. Unluckily for him however, he lived until 1703, and now the coffin bears a "half-arsed" attempt to amend the date of his death. This solution clearly being cheaper than the manufacture of a new stone coffin.

1693 or 1703?

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Home of the Daleks in Dorset

The unusual looking ruins and caves in the below pictures are all that remains of the old quarry site at Winspit, which nestles on the cliff side near Worth Matravers in Dorset. Winspit quarry was one of the numerous quarries on this section of coastline, which once provided highly prized stone for prestigious building projects in London. Winspit quarry was in use until around 1940, when the site was used as part of the south coast's naval and air defences during World War II. Today the quarry and the cliff side is open for curious people to explore and climb.

If Winspit quarry looks familiar to you it may be that you have seen it before in an episode of Dr Who.

The quarry was used in the Dr Who adventure The Underwater Menace in 1967, which saw the second Dr Who (Patrick Troughton) visit a deserted volcanic island and encounter a band of survivors from Atlantis who had a plan to raise the island from its watery grave.

The fourth Dr Who (Tom Baker) also visited Winspit quarry in 1979 in The Destiny of the Daleks. In this episode Winspit quarry portrayed the planet D-5-Gamma-Z-Alpha (also known as Skaro), which is the home world of Dr Who's arch enemy, the Daleks. The quarry's ruined buildings provided a suitable representation of what an abandoned Dalek city may look like and these three stills (one, two, three) show Tom Baker in action at Winspit quarry.

So if you ever wanted to visit the Dalek home world, just head to the Dorset Coast, it is a lot easier than trying to travel through space and time!
First look at Winspit quarry. 

The ruins of the quarry buildings.

The quarry.

Exploring the inside.

Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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Monday, 1 June 2015

Oiling a Folly

The tower shown below is Clavell Tower which sits on the Dorset coastline just to the east of Kimmeridge Bay. Clavell Tower was built in 1830 by the Reverend John Richards Clavell, who apparently built the folly for use as an observatory. The tower sits 100 metres above the sea on the top of Hen Cliff and is itself 11 metres tall, so as an observatory it could provide far reaching views over both the sea and the nearby countryside. Given the tower’s location it is not surprising that it was also used by local Coastguards as a look out post until the 1930s, when the tower was sadly gutted by a fire.

In 2006 an 18 month project commenced to move the tower 25 metres inland to save it from falling victim to the crumbling cliff edge. The project saw the tower’s 16,272 stones numbered and photographed so that they could be moved and carefully reconstructed at the new location. During this relocation the interior of the tower, which comprises of 4 internal floors and a shallow basement, was refurbished and is today available as a unique holiday home.  

To date the tower has been the inspiration for at least two famous authors. The Dorset novelist, Thomas Hardy, is said to have frequently taken his lover to visit the tower, which is probably why he included a sketch of the tower in his Wessex Poems. It is also said that the fire gutted tower was the inspiration for a murder scene in P. D. James's 1975 novel The Black Tower.

Clavell Tower seen across Kimmeridge Bay.

The Tower and the foundations of its original location.
Clavell Tower is not the only place of interest in Kimmeridge, just to the west of Kimmeridge Bay there is a “nodding donkey” extracting oil from this part of the Jurassic Coast. The Dorset coast is not the sort of place that you would expect to find oil being extracted, however oil operations have been ongoing here since 1935. Small seepages of oil were found in numerous locations around the Dorset coast and these led to people searching for their source.  Between 1958 and 1980 six wells were drilled in Kimmeridge Bay, and only one of these wells (known as K1) exposed worthwhile reserves of oil and gas seeping from the rocks around 500 meters below the coast. Following this discovery oil extraction was soon set up and the “nodding donkey” at the Kimmeridge K1 well site has been pumping non-stop since 1961 and has the honour of being the oldest working oil pump in the UK. The K1 well currently draws oil from 350 metres below the coast, and at its peak it was producing 350 barrels of oil per day. These days the well produces around 80 to 65 barrels per day.

The Kimmeridge K1 well is now part of the larger Wytch Farm oil field and processing facility that extracts and processes oil from a number of locations in the Purbeck Region. The Wytch Farm oil field is the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe, and yet most people who live in Dorset would not even know that black gold is being extracted from beneath their feet!

The Kimmeridge Oil Well seen from across Kimmeridge Bay.

The Kimmeridge Nodding Donkey. 
Pictures: Dorset (May 2015).

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