Saturday, 17 November 2018


Outside our bedroom window was a field of good produce: tomato’s, apples, faggots of kindling wood, gourds, green peppers, all basked in an early light. Fecundity was to be a characteristic of the entire week as we raced through the Romanian countryside.

Through villages, up hill and down dales and low hills we visited two painted churches; Voronet and Sucevița. 

Round these parts you’d build a church to celebrate a victory (Voronet) or for defensive purposes (Suceviţa) to help protect the land from invaders, the Ottoman hoards. 

Either way the nobles who sponsored this activity also hired the very best of decorators to cover almost every inch of the church with wonderful characters and objects to depict every story in The Bible. Languages were not established and certainly not the written word so these wonderful portrayals was the way to go.
It is remarkable that these places were decorated inside and out.  And God’s work has stood the test of time. Seeing all these paintings and have them enthusiastically explained by Tour Guide Alex was a blessing. Inside each was an almost pungent atmosphere of Holiness that even the ungodly tourist hordes with cameras and smart phones could not banish into the outer darkness. 

Both establishments, Voronet and Sucevița were policed by nuns who took your 10 lei for a permit to use your camera, sold you post cards and ensured that you did not take photographs in the interiors of these treasured places. People did.

So these were the churches of Moldavia. A land that has been ruled by Dacian, Romans, Hungarians and Ottomans all before finally forming a country from three principalities; Walachia, Transylvania and Moldavia itself. 

Tomorrow, Tuesday, we would be travelling west through the Carpathian Mountains to Transylvania proper.  

Thursday, 15 November 2018


The Palace of Sighs

Out in the Open Air (Museum)

A palace, bigger than most: Second only to the Pentagon in size!

This morning, our coach wizzes us along the wide streets of Bucharest, light traffic because it is Sunday. Clear skies and sunshine. It was comfortable night in the Crown Plaza hotel. Its breakfast room was reassuringly populated with half of Asia. Good breakfast sets us up for the day.

Open Air Village Museum
In 1930 someone had the bright idea of uprooting a hundred houses across the entire country and plonking them down in the OPEN AIR VILLAGES MUSEUM. What a good idea it was. For in sixty minutes or more, if you have the time you can get an appreciation of Romania’s vernacular architecture and way of life of its people. This is an important primer for our time here. I was smitten by the 18C sub Carpathian pigeon loft. Also enjoyed the most excellent espresso.

The Palace.
Ortillia is our tour guide, she was quite brilliant shepherding us round the Palace of the People. It was an edifice only second to the Pentagon Building in size. This was Ceausescu’s great memorial. He never saw it completed as he was topped in late 1989 and democracy established. It is a remarkable place. Over 1000 rooms, built at a cost of US$ 3 billion (gold leaf does cost) with 220,000 square metres of carpet. The list of incredible facts goes on.

Our 1.5 km tour with Ortillia took us up and down 200 stairs. Marble everywhere and rich brocades and chandeliers. The place dripped with these ostentatious accoutrements. Wonderful, wonderful and so much off it and we saw a mere fraction. And were impressed as Mr and Mrs C thought we should be.

A view from the balcony showed that Mr C thought the whole area surrounding his impressive gaff should not be unlike the palace. He achieved just this with a wide boulevard leading off from the main entrances leading down into the city centre  - fountains, playing water canons, completed the effect.

The Old Town of Bucharest
Ceaușescu thought old towns were a waste of time and tried to lay waste to the one in Bucharest. 
But not quite and now the EEC are pouring money into this part of town to turn it into ‘the Old Town’ that every Eastern European capital should have; to trap tourists and bring money into the country.

We had a kick  a beef and pork confection. Skinless sausages 

The Sunday flight north 16:00
We take off in something with propellers into the late afternoon sun after an excellent stay in Ceaușescu-ville. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018


Tarom, the Romania national airline is excellent. 

The flight was good except for the heat on board. Mike makes a plea for less heat and it appears to get hotter. The upside a free airline meal (VG) and a glass of red wine, which is relaxing and helps me cope with the temperature. One of the cabin crew looks like the actress Kate O’Mara (perhaps she was).

Fab flights by Tarom

We were on the way to Roumania. 

Eight days of cutting through the Carpathian Mountains by coach. A land criss‐crossed by rivers, and hemmed by the Black Sea and Danube delta. 

Romania is home to a lively capital, lovely medieval towns, legendary castles, seven Saxon citadels, and countless cultural events.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018


The eleventh Curious Coast Jaunt, begins in the former Cinque Port of New Romney, in Kent. 

Trevor and I relished the ‘full English’ at Elaine’s Café, a yummy and fulsome start to this ten-mile tour along the Kent coast in the direction of Folkestone. It was a dull morning weather-wise, yet spirits were high as we regained the car and headed the mile or two to the beach: Littlestone Beach.

Littlestone Beach is not so little and its broad sands, scoured by a stiff wind gave way to Greatstone Beach. Here there was more lovely low water magic and the occasional drop of sun on the sand. South of Greatstone, in the distance stood the three shoe box-like shapes of Dungeness. Dungeness was a 2015 Curious CoastJaunt.

We left the beach and up onto the road, The Paradebecomes Coast Driveand thenGrand Parade, a not to be missed architectural romp past some of the most curious bungalow designs and dilapidation. A walk of little over one and half miles takes you past a PVC clad Dutch Gable End house, then a modern architect’s flight of fancy, further along, a low ranch-style dwellings and an imposing place that would sit well on South Beach in Florida.  There is something for everyone.

One real treat is St Peter’s Church. The Romney Marsh net website informs: 
The present building was made possible by a generous bequest, and was opened in April 1962 by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury. The shape of the building is intended to reflect the shape of a boat
There is more detail on this delightful church and others at

It is a straight road from Littlestone Beach to Hythe, another Cinque Port. Hythe was busy, lots of cars and pedestrians on narrow streets, all seemed fractious.

Making a sharp right turn and we escaped to West Parade and the beach. Here we swapped the sand for crunchy shingle and we walked in sunshine at last. 

Fishermen on the beach, in their igloo-like brightly coloured windbreaks cast, cast again and adjusted their lines. Mackerel appeared to be on the lines of some lucky chaps. 

West Parade pulls itself up sharp and there is what remains of the Hythe fishing fleet. Several boats are hauled up on the beach against the backdrop of crow black fish sheds and colourful crates and buckets.

A little further and we reach the Martello towers and the intimidating MOD signs for the MOD’s practise Ranges are here and seem to stretch along the beach for miles. Keep Out!

We about turned and buy fish at Griggs of Hythe. Skate Wings for Trevor and Fish Pie Mix for yours truly. We walked back for coffee and then headed home through the M25 grind back to Bucks.

Saturday, 3 November 2018


Treasure is tucked away in the north-eastern part of Oxfordshire, close to but far enough away from the M40’s roar. Almost secret, criss–crossed by well behaved ‘A’ roads and good bus service. Three villages, three churches a few miles from each other, each one listed in Jenkins’ big book, England's Thousand Best Churches. *Simon Jenkins 1999.

And along with me was Rosie the Puppy.

Mr J was at his mischievous best in his report card all three churches; Adderbury, Bloxham and South Newington.

With Bloxham, Adderbury is considered the other twin glory of North Oxfordshire. A helpful Church Warden directed me (on this phone) through a chancel door, indicated by a trail of electrical cables. They are in the middle of a big makeover, steeple, tower and something high above the Rood Screen. One of the chaps doing the work said several more months’ work was in the offing. 

Jenkins:a Decorated structure adorned by the north Oxfordshire school of carvers…both inside and out their gallery of vernacular art, Animals, grotesques and humans tumble along the cornice line.
With Bloxham, Adderbury is considered the twin glories of North Oxfordshire.

Another grand steeple is in evidence here too and with more virtuoso stone carving outside and in. One high spot is the Milcombe Chapel, as classic 15thC Perpendicular.
Jenkins: Light floods in past the delicate concave piers of the arcade, like a conservatory tacked on a gloomy stately home

Milcombe Chapel Bloxham: like a conservatory tacked on a gloomy stately home

SOUTH NEWINGTON St Peter Ad Vincula**
Before visiting the church, Rosie and I went for a pint in The Duck on the Pond which is is a delightful Pub & Restaurant, set just off on the A361 Banbury to Chipping Norton Road. Newly done up and they provided a warm welcome and a good beer.

Out of the pub, across the road, the lane and there is St Peters with its bizarre porch favoured in a late work by my hero John Piper.

Oh joy! Discovering the wall paintings herein, the best of which are on the north aisle including one depicting the murder of Thomas a Becket.

Jenkins:This familiar scene of early medieval piety is singularly horrific, with Becket’s head spouting blood as the sword cleaves it in two.

South Newington: Oh joy! Discovering the wall paintings

SPECIAL THANKS TO The Revd Dale Gingrich, Vicar of
Bloxham, Milcombe and South Newington for his guidance on the churchs' 'opening hours'

Rosie and I have more churching jaunts planned for what is left of this year and next. With Mr Jenkins’ magnum opusreadily to hand

*Simon Jenkins 1999
Simon Jenkins has travelled the length and breadth of England to select his thousand best churches. Organised by county, each church is described - often with delightful asides - and given a star rating, from one to five. 

The author acknowledges the copyright © Simon Jenkins, 1999,2000

**Saint Peter ad Vincula (Saint Peter in Chains) alludes to the bible story of the Liberation of Saint Peter, when an angel rescued the Apostle Peter, imprisoned by King Herod. Frequently seen translations are: English - St Peter in Chains. ... Latin - Sancti Petri ad Vincula. 

Thursday, 1 November 2018


Just back from another drawing session in the PRM revelling in simply being there.  Later that evening evening I listed ‘Five reasons to love the Pitt Rivers’.

WATCH and enjoy how everyone else reacts and gets excited, especially the children as they run from glass case to case. During term time I am in competition! . . Once three different school groups were scurrying round the display cases. Everyone had a small drawing board, paper and pencil. We are all getting treasure down on paper. 

BREADTH; we can travel through a vast variety lands, cultures and histories, for as long as we like. The place is an anthropological romp around the globe. Unsurpassed and a collection brimming with exciting bits and bobs. 

DEPTH: Read just one of the captions that attend each artefact you discover so much. Visit Nagaland a mountainous state in northeast India, and marvel on the get-ups of tribes when they celebrate!

SIMPLICITY: there are no ‘Experiences’, huge visual aids, buttons, and programs.   It is easy to just look and marvel. On one occasion the trumpets and drums that caught my eye. There are over nine thousand three hundred and fourteen musical instruments in the Collection.

CURIOSITY fuels affection; this is a place to keep on visiting, go six or sixty times and keep learning and marvel. Be sure to explore in the Arsenal on the upper floor: Remarkable steel from Japan and bamboo put to good use in Indonesia. The blowpipe must be an effective weapon the right hands I am sure.

Thursday, 25 October 2018


Our new grande passion is Welsh Castles. 

There are marginally more castles in Wales than Bentleys and Ferraris in Beaconsfield. In September, when we were down in Laugharne (which has its own castle), we discovered two more. Pembroke and Carew.


Pembroke provided the Normans with embarkation point for their Irish campaigns. 

In the early 1400’s it held hold the castle against Owain Glyndwr's revolt. Glyndwr was given a wedge of cash by the Constable of the Castle and he rode off.

Henry VII who ‘launched’ the Tudor line of monarchs, was born here in 1457.

Pembroke supported Parliament at the beginning of the Civil War, but in 1648 the town's mayor, peeved at his lack of reward, joined a disaffected group of Roundheads unwilling to be demobilised. Cromwell himself laid siege to the castle, which only fell after seven weeks when the water supply was cut off. 

Pembroke languished for centuries and was plundered for stone by the locals. But it was picturesque to draw

Pembroke Castle’s lucky break came in 1928. Local landowner Major-General Sir Ivor Philipps, bought it, and began to restore the place to its former glory. 

Now we can “Eat, shop and discover”and Pembroke Castle will be once again hosting its annual Christmas Market. “Last year over 15,000 visitors enjoyed free admission to what is fast becoming one of Pembrokeshire's must attend events of the year”. 

Discover the magic here

Pembroke town from the Castle Battlements


Just down the road from big beefy Pembroke is Carew Castle. It is more deserted, and offers no Christmas Market but it does have a small gift shop. 

Again Carew’s location was all about access: It lies on the Carew river commanding a crossing point of the then-still navigable river.

There is little left earth and timber castle, which was built by the Norman Gerald of Windsor in 1100. 

Infamous King John seized it for a short time in 1220 when passing through Pembrokeshire on hisIrish expedition.

Carew Castle still remains in the Carew Family. In the 13th century by Sir Nicholas de Carew, built much of what we see now, three towers, the substantial west front and the Chapel. 

The castle was remodelled during the Tudor period; Sir John Perrot transformed the Welsh fortress into something more elegant. There was a rebuilding of the north front, he added the Long Gallery. Carew’s graceful Tudor-style windows can be enjoyed today.

Today the castle is nicely cared for and run by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and more information to plan your visit is here:

Treasures within Carew Castle 

Delicate, discreet and impressive Carew Castle


The Castles of Wales is a wonderful web site with contributions academics and enthusiasts alike) who have seen fit, for one reason or another, to lend their various talents to our efforts here under the leadership and inspiration of one Jeffrey L. Thomas