Paul Cummins’ ceramic poppies were first seen as part of Tom Piper’s installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London in 2014. This comprised of over 800,000 poppies. Since then, they have toured around the country from Southend on Sea to Orkney and many places in between. For some reason I had not managed to coincide with them at any point so when I heard that The Weeping Window would be nearer home, we decided to visit. The car park is on the site of a demolished factory and nearby there are derelict buildings along the Trent & Mersey Canal.
You can also get your supply of Staffordshire oatcakes at a nearby narrow boat.
Walking along the path to Middleport Pottery where the installation was sited, we passed a wall with ceramic mosaics.
Middleport is still a working pottery, making Burleigh ware and glimpses of moulds could be seen through some of the doors.
It is possible to have a tour of the factory if you wish. The pottery also holds workshops and other events. There is also a tea room, factory shops and galleries where some local artists and jewellers exhibit. The buildings are run by the United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust and an upcoming project of theirs is to renovate some terraced houses in a nearby street and create space for workshops, offices, archives and a community centre. The terraced houses in the same street as the pottery have also been renovated.
The installation is part of a larger World War One Trail around the city entitled Stoke on Trent Remembers. Weeping Window continues here until September 16th and is free to visit. It moves to the Imperial War Museum in London afterwards and the other installation, The Wave will be at the Imperial War Museum of the North in Manchester. I might be planning some canal walks for next year.
Our main reason for going to Northern Ireland at peak holiday time was to visit relatives before we head off on our trip down under. As usual we took an overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast. A rainbow in the sky promised some improvement in the weather.
We spent the first couple of days visiting family members but then started to get itchy feet so set off down the coast passing the hordes of people visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a Rede Rope Bridge. Our first stop was at the Portanaeevey viewpoint which gives views over to Rathlin Island and the mUll of Kintyre.
Our first destination was Carfunnock Country Park which is north of Larne. It was formed from two country estates and has several facilities for children and young people as well as a campsite. I was most interested to see the garden. This was formerly the kitchen garden of Cairncastle Lodge which was gifted to the local council in 1957 with the estate. By the 1980s it was in decline but grants enabled its restoration in the 1990s. It is now called The Time Garden and has numerous sundials giving GMT, BST and local time.
Heading north again along the coast our next stop was the garden at Glenarm Castle. This was a more traditional walled garden with pleached lime trees, beech hedges and many beds of flowers, fruit and herbs.
There were several sculptures among the plants.
There is a fudge factory in the grounds and the castle, still owned by the local aristocrats is occasionally open to the public. On our last day we popped in to the Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop in Portrush. He has a good selection of Irish books as well as general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.
We dodged the showers on one of our favourite beaches at Whitepark Bay. There were a few dog walkers but it was pretty quiet.
The cliffs here are chalk in contract to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. You can often find fossils on the beach, most commonly belemnites (we have several on our mantelpiece) and occasionally, ammonites.
On the path down to the beach you pass a building and some ruins of an old ‘hedge school’. This was for young gentlemen and dates from the 18th century.
The beach is now under the care of the National Trust. There is a Youth Hostel here. Occasionally sheep and cows graze on the grass next to the beach under an agreement. Keeping the grass low, encourages wild flowers. There were some cows when we arrived but they quickly departed when a heavy shower arrived. If the tide is not high you can walk along the beach to Ballintoy harbour. It was soon time to head home again and after another night on the ferry we arrived in Birkenhead dock just as the sun was rising over Liverpool.
St George’s Hall in Liverpool is a familiar building. In the years I worked in the city, the hospital Christmas Ball was held there annually until austerity measures kicked in. One of my colleagues told me that her grandfather had been one of the workers restoring the Minton tiled floor before the Hall was re-opened in 2007. The floor is covered when functions are held but once a year, it is uncovered and can be viewed. For £3 you can go in and look from the sides but for £12 a guided tour allows you onto the floor (with covered shoes) and explains a lot of the history and the significance of the decorations in the concert hall. It has now finished for this year.
We were told that in the early 19th century, musical events and festivals needed a venue. Many had previously been held in churches but some of the music was deemed too secular and other accommodation was required. A company was formed to raise the money and the foundation stones were laid on the site which from 1749-1824 had been the Liverpool Infirmary in 1938 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Victoria.
The Irish famine in the mid 19th century led to many more people arriving in Liverpool and the increased population led to the courts becoming overwhelmed. An additional court was needed and after a 25-year-old London architect, Harvey Lonsdale Elmes, won the competition to design both a concert hall and court, the decision was made to combine both facilities in one building. He died before the work was completed and John Weightman, Corporation Surveyor, and Robert Rawlinson, structural engineer continued it, until in 1851 Sir Charles Cockerell was appointed architect. He was largely responsible for the decoration of the interiors.
Our tour started in the Heritage Centre. We were led upstairs to the part of the building containing the court complex. The first cell we were taken into was lined with photographs of some of the prisoners. It could hold 50 people with one bucket for toilet facilities.
We could not see much of the court room as it was set up for a video presentation for the Liverpool Biennial. Apparently, it has been used as the Old Bailey in courtroom dramas. We were told that this was the first court which had a holding cell on the floor underneath the court room. This was the origin of the phrase ‘you’re going down’.
It was then time to enter the concert hall and be introduced to the features in the floor.
The organ was for a time, the biggest in the country but has now slipped to number three behind Liverpool Anglican Cathedral and the Albert Hall.
St George’s Plateau is the space between the Hall and Lime Street Station which has been used for many public gatherings. More recently Tommy Robinson, one of the Far-Right activists, claimed they had had thousands of people at a protest in London. The photograph supplied, when examined closely, was not in London but was St George’s Plateau 13 years previously with people at a home-coming for Liverpool FC after a Champions League Victory. Our guide explained the various emblems in the floor which represent Scotland, Ireland and England. Wales was not represented as it was a Principality, not a country at the time.
Liverpool is of course represented.
Statues line the walls, mainly of men but some notable women are now being added.
The architect had to design the roof and figured out a way of making holes in the bricks so that the structure was light enough to stay up.
In between the windows are statues of the virtues.
He also had to design the heating and ventilations system. With the tour finished we spent a little time doing some shopping, having a leisurely coffee and lunch before heading home again.
After our night in the harbour at Lochmaddy the wind had gained in strength and our skipper decided that we need to cross the Minch before it got worse. The decision was made to head for Rum. We had a brief glimpse of a minke whale as we crossed to the Small Isles, sailing past Canna and the Point of Sleat and were followed into the harbour by a French sailing boat.
We moored in the harbour as the storm was approaching fast and dinner was served.
The boat’s flag was considerably more tattered than on the outward journey.
The following morning there was not time to explore Rum as we had to make for a sheltered loch on the Sound of Mull near Isle Oronsay. Leaving Rum, we passed a promontory called ‘Welshman’s Rock’ and I have not been able to discover how it got its name. We passed between Eigg and Muck and then round Ardnamurchan point where I managed to replace my lost photographs of the lighthouse.
We were soon in the loch and watched the sun go down.
The next morning it was a short trip over to Tobermory harbour.
Wandering along the street we noticed that since our last trip many years ago, most of the shops were aimed at tourists. A local told us that for many items they now needed to go to Oban as some essentials were not stocked locally. After a coffee, we decided to walk the 2km path to the lighthouse which goes along the shore. On our return to town, it was sunny enough to enjoy an ice-cream.
After lunch on the boat we left for Lochaline, a sea loch closer to Oban where our journey of the water would end. Ahead looked calm but behind us the clouds were building.
In the morning it was a short trip past the Lismore lighthouse once more to Oban to catch our train.
Our boat left the Sound of Harris at 5am. I had awoken when the engines started up but fell asleep again until breakfast time. The weather was improving and blue sky appearing among the clouds. Just before the St Kilda archipelago came into view, we were overtaken by some small, fast daytrip boats. The first island to come into view was Boreray with Stac Lee and Stac an Armin.
On arrival at Hirta, a cruise ship came into view.
I had not expected this and had to remind myself that St Kilda has been a tourist venue since the mid 19th century. Unfortunately, these ships also brought smallpox and cholera and in 1913, influenza. Emigration also contributed to population loss. In 1851, 36 islanders emigrated to Australia and a suburb of Melbourne is called St Kilda. After the First World War many young men did not want to return. Zealous church ministers who expected high levels of church attendance left less time to run the island and harvest food. The demand for goods which the population had previous given to their factor in lieu of rent such as feathers for mattresses and tweed made from Soay sheep wool had declined. Midwifery skills were rejected and tetanus infantum lead to infant mortality rates up 80% because putting fulmar oil on the umbilicus was a local practice. This may have been stored in gannet or sheep stomachs and is thought to be the origin of the bacterium. In 1877 a midwife was brought to the island and maternal and infant mortality levels reduced.
Packed lunches collected, we were taken in the dinghy to the village pier where a red carpet was laid out. This was not for us but for the cruise passengers.
The street consists of the 1860s cottages with the old blackhouses in between and a small cemetery behind.
Cleits are everywhere and were used to store peat, food and clothing. Some on the hillside are now used by the sheep as shelter.
The current shop is also the Post Office and mail is collected by helicopter twice a week. The helicopter also transports workers to and from the military base which is being renovated at present to turn the buildings into some more in keeping with the others on the island.
We walked up to the gap which overlooks the cliffs below, past the storehouse and gun emplacement but the tops of the hills were still in the cloud.
After descending we had our lunch on the seat outside the small museum where this Lesser Black-backed Gull was observing us hoping for some food.
I also chatted to one of the cruise ship passengers who was from the San Francisco Bay Area. At least she was used to grey days and fog. After lunch I returned to the cliff edge near the gun where fulmars were nesting, and some puffins were visible.
On our return to the boat we saw a basking shark in the bay and after our evening meal enjoyed the sun going down.
On our second morning we walked up the road which was built in the 1950s when the military arrived.
The base has a pub but it only opens from 7pm as a previous earlier opening time had led to behaviour problems and drunkenness.
It was sunny and warm at first and we walked as far as the scree.
Back at the street, I briefly saw some St Kilda Wrens before it began to rain.
Our skipper told us that we had to leave the island at 3pm due to an approaching storm which was predicted to have up to 50mph winds. It was too windy to get to Soay so we passed around the stacs and Boreray where northern gannets nest. St Kilda vies with the Bass Rock as to which has the largest gannetry in the world.
before heading to Lochmaddy on North Uist to shelter for the night.