Archive for Britain


My 10 Top Travel Photos of 2011

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2011 has again been a good year for me to discover wonderful new places in the world. Rather than bore you with a very brief and inadequate description, I thought I’d rely on the old saying of “a picture paints a thousand words” or rather in this case a photo. Here are my favourite photos I took during the last year.

Kronborg Castle

My first trip of the year was to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. I’ve been there many times and decided to head up the coast to Helsingor and the famous Kronborg Castle. It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet”.

Kronborg Castle – One of Northern Europe’s finest Renaissance castles


Sveti Stefan

I spent a couple of days on the Montenegro coast at Sveti Stefan overlooking this iconic iselt.

Sveti Stefan – Famous visitors here include Elizabeth Taylor and Sophie Loren.


Mandarin Fish

My first diving trip to Manado was extremely rewarding. On a night dive I managed to capture a couple of pictures of the elusive Mandarin Fish on a night dive.

The elusive Mandarin Fish on Bunaken Island, Manado, Indonesia


Queens Colours 1/24th Regiment

The Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 was the greatest defeat a British force ever suffered at the hands of a native army. On that fateful January day, the Queens Colours of 1/24th Regiment were lost in the Buffalo River. Two weeks later, against all odds they were recovered. Queen Victoria added a wreath of immortals around the crown as reminder of what happened to those colours at Isandlwana. Today, they are hanging in the Havard side chapel in Brecon Cathedral, Wales.

Queens COlours of 1/24th Regiment that were lost and later found after the Battle of Isandlwana in January 1879.


Burning Bush / Fire Extinguisher

High in the Sinai Mountains in St Catherine’s Monastery. It is a hugely significant religious site and  this picture is of the Burning Bush. I found it slightly amusing that there is a fire extinguisher next to it…just in case.

In 2011, the Burning Bush is less of a safety risk that back in the days when it was described in the book of Exodus thanks to a fire extinguisher.


Soldier on guard, Hall of Valour

The Battle of Stalingrad was an horrendous fight to the death for hundreds of thousands of Russian and German soldiers. Today at the Hall of Valour at Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, there is a permanent guard.

A soldier stands guard in the Hall of Valour, Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd


Petra through the Siq

The Siq at Petra is a long passage all visitors have to travel through to reach the famous Red City. As you approach the end, you get your first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra.

Nearing the end of the Siq and catching a first sight of the Treasury at Petra.


Kotor – cruise ship

The old walled town of Kotor in Montenegro is a popular cruise destination.

A cruise ship docked at Kotor, Montenegro



This photo isn’t so much a favourite, I just want to highlight a problem (excuse the blurriness). When threatened, Pufferfish expand their bodies. Its a rare sight and is incredibly stressful for them. On this night dive in Aqaba, the guide annoyed this Pufferfish enough for it to puff out it’s body. I was really annoyed that someone meant to educate and protect the marine environment could do this. It was at a 5* PADI centre in a marine park.

This poor Pufferfish was annoyed by our dive guide and felt it had to expand it’s body to defend itself.


Ma’In Hotsprings

If you want to visit a fantastic spa resort in a stunning setting, the Ma’In Hotsprings 260m below sea level in Jordan will not disappoint.

The main waterfall at the fabulous Ma’In Hotsprings in Jordan.


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Thats all from me for 2011, now I’m looking forward to 2012 which will take me to more new places and the Euro 2012 Championships in Ukraine.

The 24th Regiment of Foot came into being in the mid 1700s when the British army adopted the protocol of giving regiments numbers rather than the names of their commanding officers. The 24th served with distinction in various theatres, most famously in the Anglo Zulu War of 1879 before the regiment became the South Wales Borderers in 1881.

Brecon is a small town in South Wales on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons. The route to the town from the M4 which runs long the south Wales coast takes you through some beautiful scenery. The winding road makes its way through the green hills and valleys that this area is famous for.


Brecon Cathedral


The Barracks Museum of the 24th Regiment can be found on The Watton and the road is lined with 24 lime trees. The museum is a wonderful place to visit packed with a fascinating array of weapons, uniforms, medals and other memorabilia. The museum also owns a number of Victoria Crosses awarded to the men who fought under one of the regimental banners. If you venture further into the town of Brecon, you will also find a pub called “Rorke’s Drift” which takes its name from the most famous battle the 24th ever fought.


Queens Colour 1/24th Regiment in Brecon Cathedral


The Cathedral in Brecon is the focal point of this community. It is a wonderful place to visit with a little tea room located in it’s shadow and a shop were you can purchase books or other souvenirs. The interior of the cathedral is typical of many cathedrals up and down the United Kingdom but it is the Havard Chapel which is a shrine to the various Welsh Regiments that have been based in Brecon down the years. Hanging proudly high up on the walls are various regimental colours, the most famous ones being those of 1/24th Regiment that were lost at the Battle of Isandlwana despite the efforts of Lieutenants Melville and Coghill in 1879. Amazingly, they were recovered from the Buffalo River 13 days later. Queen Victoria added a wreath of immortels around the crown of the colours which can clearly be seen. There are numerous plaques and memorials to various regiments who fought in various battles.

Today, the regiment has been further amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Wales but the 24th Regiment of Foot lives on in history. 16 men from this famous Regiment have been awarded the Victoria Cross when it was known as the 24th, the majority of which were earned on 22nd January 1879 in a remote part of South Africa at the Battle of Isandlwana and the Battle of Rorkes Drift.

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Super Moon, was it really that super?

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Saturday 19th March 2011 we were told was the day when the earth would see a Super Moon. This natural event is when a full moon occurs that is within 90% of its orbit to the earth. The orbit path of the moon is an oval shape which accounts for the variance. There are a number of Super Moons each year but the one on 19th March was almost perfect and the last time the moon was so close to the earth was in 1993.

In the days running up to the 19th March, the expectation grew of a superb natural show and luckily where I live in the East of England, the skies were clear. However, I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I had expected a large imposing full moon which may even have been tinted slightly orange but in the end, it just looked like another full moon to me.

Thats not to say full moons aren’t spectacular but in my opinion, the show didn’t live up to the hype. Thats not to say some spectacular photos didn’t appear but I believe these photos could have been produced at most full moons using the same equipment. For example, I found this photo taken in Greece:

Photo: Associated Press


I also took a couple of photos from my back garden and below I’ve compared the image from the 19th March 2011 with one I took using the same camera and lens in June 2009 in Egypt. Compare them and see if you think there is any noticeable difference between the two images?

Full Moon, Egypt, June 2009


Super Moon, UK, 19th March 2011

How was the Super Moon for you?  Were you impressed or was it a bit of an anti-climax?

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In the course of The First World War, the death over the fields of Flanders was on an awful scale with a large number of bodies never identified or retrieved. On 11th November 1920, simultaneously ceremonies were held both in London and Paris to unveil tombs of unknown soldiers.

The tomb of the unknown soldier came to represent the loss experienced by the families of soldiers who died and their bodies were never identified or recovered. The unknown French soldier lies in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris while the unknown British soldier lies entombed in Westminster Abbey amidst kings and statesmen.

The concept was initially talked about by a clergyman named Reverend David Railton. In 1916 in France, he had observed a cross with the words “An Unknown British Soldier” written on it. Four years later in 1920, Railton got into contact with the Dean of Westminster recommending it may be appropriate to have a nationally recognised grave for an unknown soldier.

4 British servicemen were exhumed from Aisne, the Somme, Arras and Ypres and transported to a chapel at St Pol, in the vicinity of Arras. Every body was covered in a Union flag and one was picked out by Brigadier General L J Wyatt. Wyatt had no idea where the soldiers had been taken from or their rank. The idea was that the unknown soldier could quite possibly have been anyone from a Private right up to a Colonel, a colonial manual worker to the child of an Earl.

The soldiers casket was carried to London and was taken to Westminster Abbey in a horse drawn gun carriage. The cortege was accompanied by King George V and members from the Royal family. At Westminster Abbey, it was flanked by a guard of one hundred recipients of the Victoria Cross.

The coffin was placed and covered with earth brought from the battlefields of World War I. It was topped with a piece of black marble from Belgium and is the only tombstone in Westminster Abbey on which it is forbidden to walk.

Since then, several other nations have devoted very similar tombs such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, Germany, Iraq, Japan, Russia, Ukraine and the United States.

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The Battle of Britain

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The summer of 1940 saw World War II reach the English skies as the Royal Air Force bravely stand up to the onslaught of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Immediately following a period of time identified as the ‘Phoney War’, Hitler had ordered his army to invade some other European nations and there was little resistance in Belgium, Netherlands and France.

Operation Dynamo had seen close to 300,000 men of the BEF brought to safety by a flotilla of ships that made crossing between England to Dunkirk over a period of days. Now Hitler had his sights on England. The white cliffs of Dover were clearly in sight as the German High Command gazed across the English Channel from Calais.

However, until such time as the skies of England were under German command, Hitler would not authorise Operation Sealion – the invasion of Great Britain. With America being unwilling to participate in the war at this time and her Allies overcome, UK would need to face the Germans alone.

Would Britian hold on until the autumn when the weather would not allow the Germans from crossing the Channel? British hopes lay in the hands of the fearless pilots of the RAF, “The Few” as Churchill later referred to them. It had not been only British airmen in the RAF, the Commonwealth was represented with pilots from quite a few colonial outposts such as South Africa and Rhodesia also with Poles and even a handful of Americans.

Hitler directed the Luftwaffe over to blast United Kingdom into submission but yet crucially, their fighter escorts only had the fuel for a few minutes battle before they would have to go back home leaving the bombers unprotected. For the very first time, the Luftwaffe were up against stiff resistance and there was to be no repeat of their swift victories on the Continent. The British airfields in the south east were taking a hammering till one night in August 1940, a German plane got lost and dumped its bombs over London before heading home. In retaliation, the Royal Air Force launched a raid on Berlin.

Hitler was furious and directed the Luftwaffe to attack London rather than the Royal Air Force airfields. This was a major turning point as it afforded the Royal Air Force some much called for respite. The German Air Force was not able to get the initiative at any point and in mid September, Hitler indefinitely postponed Operation Sealion. The threat of invasion was over and Churchill spoke of the contribution of Fighter Command in a widely recognized speech “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few”.

The foremost fighter ace was Sgt Frantisek from the Czech Republic with a score of 17 kills. He piloted a Hawker Hurricane which was the true workhorse of Fighter Command but everyone remembers the iconic Spitfire. Sgt Frantisek was killed in October 1940.

The Battle of Britain was the first occasion the Germans had experienced a miltary defeat in World War II.

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Frank Bourne Rorkes Drift Hero

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The Battle of Rorkes Drift is certainly one of the most popular battles in the past of the British army. It was at this little mission station near the border of Zululand and Natal where a few thousand Zulu warriors attacked the garrison of around 140 British soldiers. The soldiers fought for their lives all night and by morning, the Zulus had withdrawn. The highest award for gallantry from the British Army is the Victoria Cross and the defence of Rorkes Drift saw twelve VCs awarded, greater than in any other single action in history.

The fight was portrayed in the Stanley Baker movie “Zulu” and one of several leading characters who acted with distinction at Rorkes Drift, in the end failed to receive a Victoria Cross. Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal that is ranked second behind the Victoria Cross. In addition, Bourne was also offered a commission although he turn it down. As Bourne was the eighth son in his family, there was no money on hand and this would have been a time when wealth was used to buy commissions for officers with the British Army.

Having said that, Bourne was destined to be a career soldier and an excellent one too. Following South Africa, he was posted to India and Burma prior to eventually earning his commission eleven years following the Battle of Rorkes Drift. He at long last retired from the British Army in 1907. Only seven years afterwards, The Great War broke out and Bourne re-enlisted in the army. By the conclusion of the Great War in 1918, Bourne had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and was made an OBE. Bourne left the military again, now for ever.

Due to the actor who portrayed Bourne in the motion picture Zulu, several people considered Frank Bourne to have been in his mid-50s during the time of the Battle of Rorkes Drift but in reality he was simply 24 years old. Just after the end of The Great War, he lived in retirement in Beckenham, South London and he was the final survivor of Rorkes Drift to pass away at the age of 91 on 8th May 1945, the very day the Second World War in Europe came to an end.


The Disaster of Exercise Tiger

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Throughout the build up to the Allied landings in Normandy in 1944, a terrific deal of groundwork and organizing was required. Information was consistently being gathered by a community of agents while products and machines were being ferried to England. These would be essential during and after what was and still is the largest invasion force of all time.

Preparation and proper training was a necessary part of the plans. Rangers who were to attack Point du Hoc trained by climbing cliffs and troops made practice beach landings. A big component of the operation of secrecy and the people of Britain were counted upon to play their part. In Devon, an area called Slapton Sands was picked as an ideal practice area on account of the similarities with the Utah landing beach in Normandy.

Exercises for the landings began in late 1943 with the main invasion plotted for June 1944. Over 3,000 residents were relocated from the region around Slapton Sands. A number of exercises were organised and undoubtedly one of the most significant was Operation Tiger involving close to 30,000 men (approximately a 3rd of the existing strength of the British Army) were to be involved.

Exercise Tiger took place in late April 1944. The initial practice landings were executed without any troubles but throughout the exercise scheduled for the early hours of 28th April 1944, disaster hit. German E-Boats operating from Cherbourg came across a convoy of 8 LST (Landing ships). They aimed torpedoes at the LSTs and desperate men jumped into the frozen waters to get away the sinking ships. A number of hadn’t been told how to put on their life preservers and drowned.

Additionally to the E-Boat attacks, more men died on the shores themselves. Using live ammunition had been authorised and together with the fatalities in the sea, there were further casualties by friendly fire after they strayed into the wrong sections of the beaches.

In total well over nine hundred men died all through Exercise Tiger and it was nearly 40 years before the facts were made public. Ironically, only about 200 men died on Utah Beach throughout the real landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. These days, a Sherman Tank is on show at Slapton Sands as a memorial to the men who perished all through Exercise Tiger.

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The origins of the Remembrance poppy

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Every year at the beginning of November everyone in the UK and some other commonwealth countries start to sport a red poppy in the run up to Armistice Day on 11th November. Often referred to as Remembrance Day in the UK, it is the day we remember the men and women who have died in conflict in the defence of their land. The Armistice was the agreement that concluded World War I and it was signed on 11th November 1918 at 11am.

At 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the 11th month, United Kingdom stops for two minutes to observe a silence. Remembrance Sunday is observed on the 2nd Sunday in November with marches, memorial services and the laying of wreaths at war memorials in cities, towns and villages all across the UK. The image of Remembrance is the poppy and it has been adopted by the Royal British Legion who do so much great work to aid ex – military personal.

The year after the end of World War I, King George V dedicated a day to recognize the personal who had died during the four year war and the 1st two minute silence was held in London on 11th November 1919 at 11am. The following day, the Manchester Guardian published that the two minute silence was impeccably observed.

The poppy was preferred as the image of Remembrance for 2 reasons; its red colour mirrored the bloodshed and the in the war torn fields of Flanders, the poppy was one of the small number of living things to grow. The poppy is mentioned in the poem “In Flanders Fields” which was published by the Canadian physician John McCrae in 1915.

The style of the poppy worn as a symbolic representation of Remembrance varies to some degree from place to place. In Britain, the design of the poppy is a flat, firm paper leaf placed on a plastic stem. Some also have a single green leaf and it is held in place with in a single pin.

Wreaths laid at memorials on Armistice Day and right through the year are typically made of artificial poppies and today countries worldwide have taken the poppy as the universal mark of Remembrance.

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A Summers Day At The Seaside

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Although people do knock Britain as a holiday destination, there is little doubt that when the weather is fine, the British seaside is a great place to be. The little town of Frinton-on-sea in Essex is much quieter than its noisy neighbour of Clacton. The Esplanade is an expansive grass area overlooking the sea and its an ideal place to set up a little picnic area.

Even when the weather is superb, it doesn’t get excessively packed and you should be able find your own space. There are normally groups of people playing games or flying kites.

The section of beach at Frinton is wonderful and sandy although at high tide, the water does come right up to the sea wall. That said, its fairly shallow so even the little ones can splash around quite safely. Besides the public toilets and a couple of taps where you can rinse off the salt water and sand, there isn’t much in the way of facilities so you need to bring everything you need with you. The good news is that its free to park as well.

There are plenty little gems like Frinton all round the British coast  so if its a sunny day, a great day at the seaside awaits.

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Constable Country Tour Review

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When I was growing up in Africa, we had two paintings by John Constable in the lounge. I guess Mum and Dad liked the reminder of the English countryside. Now I’m back in the UK I decided to explore “Constable Country” for myself, and was lucky enough to find a local to help me.

Tour By Taxi offer private tours around the Essex / Suffolk border area. Having previously experienced tours which whisk you around at breakneck speed, I was delighted to find I could set the pace to suit me and spend time enjoying this beautiful area.

We started off in Dedham Village, a charming place for a stroll in the spring sunshine. The area benefited from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, and there is a wealth of architecture to admire. The Parish Church appears in many of Constable’s paintings and is worth a visit, particularly to see one of only three Altarpieces painted by Constable.

After a short stop at Stratford St. Mary, with a visit to the site of Constable’s ‘Stratford Mill’ painting, we took a break for lunch in East Bergholt. We lingered here for a while, seeing Constable’s early studio, Moss Cottage, and the site of his childhood home, East Bergholt House. Just down the road is the Church of St. Mary the Virgin with a highly unusual bell cage. This was built as a temporary measure to house the church bells whilst the church tower was built, but this was never completed. We also found the Constable family tomb and the grave of Willy Lott, whose home was captured for posterity in ‘The Haywain’. The stained glass windows are also worth spending a few minutes over, especially the panel dedicated to Constable with a cheeky depiction of the baby Jesus having his portrait painted.

For our final destination we headed to Flatford Mill, where Constable painted what is possibly his most recognised picture, ‘the Haywain’, as well as ‘Flatford Mill’ and ‘Boat Building near Flatford’. The National Trust offer guided tours , and there are boats for hire, but we decided to continue with our “take your time tourism” and enjoyed wandering along the river soaking up the scenery. It’s remarkably unchanged since Constable’s time, and long may it stay that way.

Tour by Taxi can reached via their website at

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