Friday, 27 December 2019


Paxton's Proud Tower

After Dryslwyn Castle we descended to the nearby village of Llanarthney. Desperate for a pint and a bag of crisps we entered the pub and quickly departed, as it was a no dogs allowed establishment. Their loss we grumbly agreed.

Oh well, we drove a few miles and up a steep hill to Paxton’s Tower. The sun was still bright in the early afternoon. All three of us bundled out of the car and walked up to this wonderful folly. Views again, in every direction. On a really, really clear day you can see Devon from the top of the tower.

So, again this part of Carmarthenshire, shared two treasures, God Bless Wales. 

Perched on a hill above the village of Llanarthne, Paxton’s Tower looks out on the Towy Valley. Built over 200 years ago, the majestic tower is in fact a folly designed to commemorate Nelson and impress the people of the valley.

The tower was built around 1805 by Sir William Paxton, owner of Middleton Hall, where the National Botanic Gardens of Wales are today. Paxton was a friend of Lord Nelson and wanted to commemorate his victories, so had the tower built in his honour. 

Tuesday, 24 December 2019


It was the last day in November and the sky was deep blue and the sun was high. Almost as high was the rocky knoll on which Dryslwyn Castles sits perched like a dark crow, its position is one of the most extraordinary defensive strength. 

Rhys ap Maredudd's Bastion
We walked up to the ruins to explore and draw. Looking north we could see into mid Wales and NE the Black Mountains. And to our SE was Paxton’s Tower, on an even higher hill.

A remarkable stronghold is Dryslwyn for many a Welsh lord struggling to come to terms with the Norman princes and later English prices who push their weight around with even more vigour and a ludicrous castle building program.

On Welsh lord was Rhys ap Maredudd who from his castle walls at Dryslwyn fancied a bit of fun and sallied forth, the outcome for Rhys was not good.

The Castles Of Wales Website picks up the story

Rhys ap Maredudd was soon involved in a series of bitter disputes with Robert de Tibetot, the new justiciar of west Wales (1281-98). The situation rapidly worsened, and in June 1287 Rhys suddenly attacked and captured the castles of Dinefwr, Carreg Cennen and Llandovery. The constables were slaughtered, and many defenders left for dead. 
The English response was swift and immensely powerful. A great army of some 11,000 men was raised in various parts of England and Wales, marching to Carmarthen to assemble under the king’s cousin, Earl Edmund of Cornwall. 

From here, in the second week of August, they set out to lay siege to Dryslwyn Castle, where Rhys had established his defensive headquarters. The siege is particularly well known because of the relative abundance of documentation. 

The castle fell after three weeks, during which time Dinefwr Castle had also been retaken. Rhys himself fled, but after a few more years of resistance he was captured in April 1292 and executed at York for treason.

Rosie enjoys the views as I sketch

Saturday, 21 December 2019


Not withstanding that we spend too much time reading from and tapping a six by ten centimetre piece of aluminosilicate glass the civilised world should still be fascinated and using writing instruments. This passion for the finer things of life can be fuelled by a visit to the most excellent Pen Museum in Birmingham! 

Making pen nibs, very civilising 

You can browse glass display cases containing all manner of writing paraphernalia; understand how the pen nib and pens came to develop. There is an opportunity to make a pen nib! I joined a small group of visitors and one of the museum’s founders talked us through the process, and each of us used every one of five different machines to make my own pen nib!   

Here’s a less breathless and more coherent viva voce from the museum’s website 


Worth their weight  Photo: Chris Worthington
The Pen Museum focuses on the important legacy of Birmingham’s 19th Century pen trade and its significant contribution to improving literacy throughout the world. It’s located in a former pen factory, built in 1863, where visitors experience writing with feather quills, reeds and steel nibs and can also make their own nib using traditional methods. The Museum narrates the interesting lives, stories and important expertise of manufacturers, owners and workers that resulted in Birmingham once manufacturing 75% of the world’s pens.  Explore the collection of over 5,000 objects related to the Birmingham Pen Trade. Our team is also happy to answer (where possible) general questions about pens.

Penman Country Photo: Chris Worthington

Plan your visit by going to the museum now

Sunday, 15 December 2019


The V&A is a treasure trove of exciting things, in each and every room. Even at the weekends the place is civilised with a real sense of people making discoveries and enjoying the process of doing so.

The other Saturday I was there on a day's drawing course. At the lunch break I wandered into the China rooms 44 and 47e (The TT Tsui Gallery on the ground Floor) both were full on eastern promise. 

I was compelled to make a drawing of an exquisite looking formal man’s suite in dark grey and black suite and another of a Zhongshan suit.

The Zhongshan suit was also known as the Mao suit was worn in the 1920s and 1930s by civil servants in China. Nearly all men wore it after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 until the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.  

The suit’s design design has particular and remarkable cultural significance:

Using one piece of material for the back of the jacket with no break seam represents the reunification of the entire nation.
Four pockets on the jacket signify the morals of the four virtues: Propriety, justice, honesty, and honour.
The shape of the pocket covers represents a mountain, symbolizing respect for culture and the promotion of education.
Four buttons on the pocket covers represents the four common law rights to be enjoyed by citizens: Election and dismissal of the government, and the making and reviewing of laws.
The five buttons on the front of the suit represent the five constitutional rights, which are administration, legislation, judiciary, examination, and supervision.
The three sleeve buttons represent the principles of nationalism, democracy, and the right to work for your livelihood.

Many thanks to the Vision Times* Link to the full story on the suit 
 Vision Times tells the world everything about China in today's context. We keep a close eye on China because of its influence now and the lessons we can learn from its ancient past to better our lives today. 

Friday, 13 December 2019


Our breakfast host!  Dear Mr Ramos
The village of Grain squats at the easternmost point of the Hoo Peninsula within the district of Medway in Kent. The Isle of Grain is almost all marshland.
It was pouring with rain on arrival . So we were forced back inland into the delights of Chatham town. We fell into the arms of Ramos’s Restaurant for a wonderful breakfast and followed by a small fruit plate to round it off!

Post-Ramos we drove back to Grain.
At the southern of the ‘Isle’ is an industrial area. Until 1982 this was home to a major BP oil refinery, which devastated by the floods of 1953. In the 1990s the refinery site was chosen for a purpose-built facility to make the concrete lining segments for the Channel Tunnel. Moments away is Thamesport, the UK's third largest container point gobbles up the land. 
A Kentish landscape  

Across the estuary to Sheppy

Wherever you look Grain Power Station seems to wink at you. It was built in the 1970s, mothballed in 2003, and reopened in 2006! Then more bash and build: the oil-fired power station was demolished in 2015 and a shinny new gas-fired station put up in its place. 
The Isle of Grain was the site of Grain Fort, built in the 1860s and used for coastal defence until the 1950s. The fort was almost completely demolished about 1960. Grain Tower dozes offshore and is a wild camping venue at low tide.
Grain Tower dozes offshore
This is a land of change; the Bethel Chapel (Built 1895) is now Grain Library. Amazon opened up in 2018 down the road at Thamesport, 34,000 square foot of sorting centre creating 200 jobs.
In front gardens the Cross of St George ruffles proudly and in one garden plot, forever England, flies the Royal Standard of England.
Immediately behind the sea wall there is pockmarked heathland with sullen estuaries; they are resting places for upturned supermarket trollies. 
National Gridlands, pylons march across the landscape in every direction. Looking due east we can see where we went in April 2016, to the Isle of Sheppey, the sister peninsular to Grain. 
The sun breaks through again and the wet sea wall concrete now turns bronze, all is gold and silver on the mashes. 
This land of forts, towers and pylons really fortifies. 
Full picture story please click here  

Tuesday, 10 December 2019


When it is dark by 2pm and we stumble through the promises and counterclaims of election candidates it is good to recall when last we had some sun and warmth. Margate provided both.

This view, as you leave the station !

Margate is very simple and very lovely. From St Pancras the train whizzes you to this seaside Elysian in ninety minutes. Enjoy the breathtaking view of the town the beach, the pleasure dome, the sea and the harbour arm and the Turner Contemporary Gallery all in the same glance. All these treasures are set out before you as you leave the station!

Even in September, the sky is ultramarine blue, no wind and people are down on the beach paddling, swimming, wadding and shouting. All is good and lots of fun.

You can enjoy a good cup of tea or coffee in many places. And we did.

Oh, and don’t just stay by the promenade, venture a few streets into the town and enjoy the shops. Vintage emporiums nestle side by side by Iceland and Subway.  This town has not been ‘pimped’ it just wraps itself around both locals and visitors alike.

My essential travel companions Bron and Rosie the Puppy

Have seafood, in Margate you must.
This was my second trip to Peter’s Fish Factory. Right on the sea front, fish and chips are brilliant, prices just as good and cross the road and sit by sea and enjoy your feast.

God Bless Margate!

Sunday, 8 December 2019


Watch the beach, the people, the sun, the palm trees and the sky as it blushes blue, magenta, red and yellow

From my hotel toward my towers

It is always good when the floods from November are still in the fields in December to look back on when one was last in the sunshine.

Life is simple in September. I fly out on Monday, work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, fly home that same evening.

My routine is simple, rise 6am, breakfast (in the over stocked buffet in the cavernous restaurant) at 7am. I walk through quiet streets to the office. 
Through the security gates and then I travel to the twenty-second floor of a tall glass block, it takes to my place of work.

A full on day with demanding and engaged people, each day my class and I become closer. 

Finish work at 6pm. And ten-minute walk, back to hotel, via a small super market, buy wine, chorizo, and chocolate for desert. This is supper.

In Barcelona I am just east of the city centre, close to the beach and in the midst of the Olympic centre built for the Olympic games in 1992, hey, sometime back.

Looking back now, stepping out of the office at 6pm and walking a little way, to lean on a low wall and watch the beach, the people, the sun, the palm trees and the sky as it blushes blue, magenta, red and yellow and then says

Good Night

Friday, 6 December 2019


     It is important to reflect on any journey. 
     What did we see and do across these two remarkable weeks in Peru?

We saw the pyramids of a civilisation that pre dates the Pharaohs and Inca temples and towns and their terraces lying in the sun.

Most days we were in sight of mountains crowned with clouds and snow. 


We had the chance to explore cities and their gorgeous churches, each House of God dripping with gold and silver. 

And during these discoveries come to sense a people for whom Christianity and spirituality were very much part of their everyday.

We salivated over ancient textiles and pottery fashioned two thousand years ago

Recoiled from the tourist hoards including young girls perched atop of ruins, their arms spread wide and chests thrust forward for ‘the photo’. 


We relished wonderful cuisine and stayed in some wonderful hotels

Travelled through jungles, plains and peaks and spied small villages by fast flowing rivers. 


Ridden on trains where smartly dressed attendants suddenly don colourful costumes and danced along our train’s carriage. Then they give a fashion show

And sailed across a lake and met people we will never forget.

     Each was an exquisite and unrepeatable experience.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019


We managed to wedge in one more site visit, driving twenty km out of Puno; up over the hillsides of the city and down onto broad plains. The region of Puno is an important for agriculture and livestock area, home to llamas and alpacas, which graze on its immense plateaus. We arrived at Sillustani


From 200 BC through 400 AD Sillustani was a necropolis, used by several tribes and peoples as a burial ground and stone circles indicate its significance as an astrological centre.  There were few people about this morning and soft breezes drifted up from the nearby lake.

Then it was down to the serious business of the run home.  From Sillustani it was forty-minute drive to the town of Julieta, and their ‘international’ airport. 

We caught a short flight back to Lima.  Immediately we were airborne my altitude sickness evaporated and spirits lifted. The latter were soon crushed given the five hours hanging around at Lima airport with its noise and crowds. 


The horrors of air travel, on this occasion, culminated in the flight being forty-five minutes late for take off. This was because the crew was late getting to the airport. Before we eventually took off we were given a simpering, almost apologetic excuse from the crew’s first officer about the heavy traffic. British Airways, typical.

Monday, 2 December 2019


Lake Titicaca is laced by mountains and at the Puno end, vast reed beds. The reeds are home to ducks, grebes and egrets. This lake then broadens out and is mirror flat and deep blue and reflecting high cloud. Only the wake of our boat breaks the peace. In the far distance are small white outlines of other tour boats.  We have two island destinations today, our last full day.

The floating island reed beds are home to the Uros people. The Uros or Uru use bundles of dried totora reeds to make boats and to fashion the islands themselves. The larger of these island accommodate about ten families, while smaller ones, are only thirty meters wide, housing only two or three families. 

Tourism is the staple industry of the Uros. Dazzling colour is their leitmotif! The clothing made and worn by the women and girls were of the brightest hues, pinks, blues, reds and yellows, oranges and greens. 

I could not draw quickly enough and left the island that we were fortunate enough to visit with four drawings. This short outing was a high spot.

Taquile is a hilly island located 45 km (28 miles) east of Puno. It is narrow and long and was used as a prison during the Spanish colonisation and actually into the 20th century. We had an excellent lunch of trout fished out of the lake. Titicaca is famous for its fish especially trout. Taquile is home to a remarkable knitting industry. Taquile handicrafts are regarded as among the highest quality in the world. 

Tour Guide Sindy explained some of the local customs. One convention is a curious try-before-you-buy aspect to getting married. 

A prospective couple have to live together for three years before they can get married, usually under the roof of the girl’s family. The engagement can be broken off before getting hitched of course. 

However divorce is prohibited. There was one case of divorce and the male of the party was banished from the island. There are now about 2,200 people on the island, all of whom are happily married. UNESCO honoured the island of Taquile and its Textile Art: They proclaimed the handicraft work on this island as ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. Men exclusively do the knitting, and start aged eight. The women do get a look in; making yarn and weaving. I bought a nice scarf.

Saturday, 30 November 2019


We left the lovely ARANWA hotel to catch the 07:10 from Cuzco to Puno.

Again PeruRail have excelled themselves again. All the carriages are a confection of 1920’s mahogany and brass. The chairs in each are wing backed and roomy, four to a table and two to a table on the other side of the carriage’s central aisle.

Each table has a brass lamp and vase of red alstroemerias. The staff are delightfully attentive and even this early in the morning we look forward to our three-course lunch with wine and our afternoon tea; all as befits a ten-hour journey.

Telegraph poles march across the land

We lumber along through the countryside. People are working in the fields, villages of low buildings some in bright pink or blue. On hillsides there are ruined settlements. Telegraph poles march across the land. Often we are close to a swollen river and then, all of a sudden; mountains crowd in on either side of the track. These peaks then yield to wide plains with small pastures. 

This is an enthralling landscape making it hard to look anywhere else but out of our carriage window for the entire three hundred and fifty kilometres.

About half way through the ten and half hour journey we stop at La Raya, little more than a halt comprising a small church and an area crammed with high benches on which the local people display handicraft work for sale. Fellow passengers get off the train, take photographs, and poke around the goods on offer and then re-board, just in time for luncheon, having bought little.

La Raya,  small church  and a place for the local people to display handicraft

We finish this wonderful train ride in Puno a city on the edge of Lake Titicaca. Tomorrow we journey on the world's highest navigable lake. It was dark when we stepped off the train with its usual confusion of people and luggage, outside the station the inevitable line of tour buses. It started to rain, heavily, adding to the gloom. We were soon cheered up by a new tour guide; Tour Guide Sindy. 

Sunday, 24 November 2019

DAY 9 TUESDAY CUZCO ‘Asisto a misa a las 7 am’

I rose early to take Mass in the Cathedral. 
Siting inside by the main door with an official of the Cathedral, waiting for the 6:30 mass to finish. The organ boomed out as part of the service.
The official leaned over and said to me with a “Quechuan music”.  I had my voice recorder ready and so captured most of this lovely sound. It was curious sound, bouncy with a celebratory feel.

The cathedral of architectural confections

The mass, in Spanish, followed the conventions of the Rite so I was able to follow and enjoy the service. Afterwards, to the side of the High Altar, with the rest of the congregation, we gathered round the Priest, he waved his aspergilium over us dispensing a blessing of holy water. 

(Altitude sickness struck yesterday manifesting as a sleepless night and shortness of breath. I drink a lot cocoa leaf tea and move very slowly. 

Later in the day I visited the main square, made a drawing of the cathedral’s upper facade getting this Gothic-Renaissance-Baroque architectural ‘mash-up’ down on paper was a challenge.

Base camp for Jesuit Order’s colonisation
Adjacent to the Cathedral was the Jesuit Church. This was base camp for Jesuit Order’s colonisation Eastwards of here. Each settlement was marked with some remarkable architecture, a Baroque blow-out! 

This church in Cuzco, La Compañía de Jesus, was built in 1571 and rebuilt in after the earthquake of 1650. 
As the guide leaflet informs
‘They (the Jesuit architects) left behind the austerity and modesty and instead opted for the grandeur of the Baroque’.
Amen to that says I. Lovely gold and guilt dripped from every ledge, crevice and surface. The main altar is 21 by 12 meters wide, fashioned in wood and covered in gold leaf, it the largest alter piece in Peru.

I left the La Compañía de Jesus completely overawed and overlaying this experience with taking Mass in the morning, I was a little envious of this country’s disposition towards and manifestations of it’s Christianity.

Altitude sickness continues with loss of appetite added to my symptoms, forcing me to abandon most of my suppertime Pizza.

Saturday, 23 November 2019


Our hotel, which barely registered when we arrived at late last night, is now, in bathed morning sunshine splendid. It is the Aranwa Cuzco. I am luxuriating in the classical music over the sound system, and drinking my forth coffee as I hurriedly catches up on this writing.

Styled as Aranwa Boutique Hotel it is a former monastery with lovely wide corridors festooned with antiques and paintings.  There are chandeliers everywhere including a glorious monster-sized one in our room. Our bathroom is larger than our bedroom and dressed out in black marble, very louche.

The hotel was formerly the residence of an Arch Deacon who lived here when the cathedral was being built. In the various sitting rooms and corridors are so many paintings (C17, C18 and 19th) and pieces of furniture the hotel provides a map of their ‘museum’ and provide an audio guide!

Cuzco was the flash point between the Inca and the Conquistador. The Spanish rode into the city and made short work (well, six months) of appropriating every ounce of gold and silver they could lay their hands on and thus the Inca were completely enslaved. 

The Dominicans built over the Inca Sun temple, the Koricancha. 

This was one example of how Phillip of Spain and the Church of Rome established Christianity here in 1534, once and for good. Although the conquered Quechuan people put their own twist both on Christianity and its attendant art, this slight of hand most noticeable in the Cathedral.

Puca Pucara, in the hills high above Cuzco once served as a staging post (1200-1500) for Inca people travelling over the mountains and trails into the city. 


And less than ten minutes down the road is KENKO an Inca holy place. This second site is smaller and comprises a collection of huge boulders from which were fashions into a cave. Here it is supposed, that with the position of the sun and moon in the right place, sacrifices and mummifications were carried out. 

On the morning of our visit there was a traffic jam of tour groups. Their custodial guides shouting at one another to move on. I am happy to report that sacrifices took place that morning!

Again Cuzco is flypaper to the tourist, two million people visit the city each year. 
Further back into the city is SACSAYHUAMÁN where the Inca kings build a huge temple and fortress looking out over the city. 


The stones from which this place is build are the height of three people, massive and immovable even by subsequent earthquakes.  Here the Inca made their last stand against the Conquistadors and lost.

Down into the city again and our last stop was the Cathedral. Here is where the Spanish brought to bear every device of art and craft to the glory of God and Rome.  The facade is an omelette of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque served with a local twist.