Outing to Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey 19th March 2018

It was a very crisp morning with a biting wind when we gathered outside the Beehive.  Our EXECUTIVE coach arrived early and was nice and warm inside.  Everyone was on time and we were soon on our way to London.  Traffic was very slow on the journey to Oxford, but after that we had a reasonable drive.

Arriving in London we were dropped off in Tothill Street on the opposite side of Parliament Square from the Houses of Parliament. We then made our way to the Houses of Parliament.  We had to enter as one group, the queue was quite long and the wait was approximately 20 minutes outside in the cold. Once through an airport style security check, we made our way to the Jubilee café, for a hot drink and cake.   Our guides and our local MP (Robert Courts) were waiting for us in Westminster Hall, from where our tour was to start.

Robert was quite surprised at the large group from his constituency. He welcomed us all with handshakes and a short speech.  He told us about the Hall, and what we would see on our tour.  He was very keen to have a group photograph with us.  Our guides then separated us into two groups, and away we went.  The guides were very thorough describing the history and functions of each part of the building that we visited.  These included, The House of Lords, the House of Commons, the Queens robing room, the Divisions Lobby (the NO’s), and the original house of Commons where Parliament used to meet before King Charles II had the present chamber built and made available to the common herd.  The present House of Commons is a rebuild as the chamber was destroyed by a bomb during World War II.  What was complete news to many of us was that at the time of the Queen’s Speech, a hostage is kept in Buckingham Palace until the Queen returns safely.  This is usually the deputy chief whip of the governing party and is a throw-back to the times of the Gunpowder Plot.  The history, statues, busts, paintings etc, cover the entire history of our nation from long before parliament was formed until the present day.  A most interesting visit and well worth the time for anyone to visit at their leisure.

After our visit, it was free time. We could either visit the shop, go visit Westminster Abbey, or have lunch.

Westminster Abbey was amazing. It appears very different to when we see it on TV for special events, as the red carpet, chairs, fancy bits and bobs are only brought out when needed.

The Abbey is steeped in more than a thousand years of history. Benedictine monks first came to the site in the middle of the tenth century, establishing a tradition of daily worship, which continues to this day.

The Abbey has been the coronation church since 1066.  The first King crowned in the abbey was William the Conqueror on Christmas Day 1066.  The Abbey is also the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the country, with the medieval shrine of an Anglo-Saxon Saint  (Edward the Confessor) still at its heart.

A treasure house of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts, Westminster Abbey is also the place where some of the most significant people in our nation’s history are buried or commemorated. Taken as a whole the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.

We left for home at 4 p.m.  The journey was trouble free, reaching Carterton just after 6.30.  I think all agreed, a very interesting day out, enjoyed by all.  Henry and Pam


Visit to Birmingham Museum and Cadburys World

On Wednesday 21st February we set out on another U3A outing, this time to The Birmingham Museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard and then on to Cadbury World.

As usual with our outings, despite being February the weather was dry and fine, although quite cold. Having left Carterton at the ungodly hour of 7.45 the rush-hour traffic was a lot less than expected. We had not realised that it was Half Term in the Birmingham area, which no doubt helped a lot.

The museum was due to open at 10 but having arrived early, some went for coffee whilst the remainder admired the buildings around the central square or just stood around chatting.

The Staffordshire Hoard needs to be seen to be believed. The hoard was discovered near the village of Hammerwitch, South Staffordshire in 2009, and consists of some 4,000 objects amounting to over 11lbs of Gold and 3.3lbs of Silver. The hoard is Anglo-Saxon and dates from around 650 to 670 i.e. after the Romans had left Britannia and before the invasion of the Vikings. This area at the time was the heartland of the Kingdom of Mercia. Not all of the objects are displayed but those that are, are nothing short of spectacular. There are pommels from Swords, Seax’s (large fighting knives), dress pins, decorative buttons and much much more including a Christian Cross. Many of the artifacts are decorated with Garnets and show influences of Celtic Art from central Europe where the Anglo-Saxons originally came from. Scientific analysis of the Garnets suggests that most originated from either India or what is now the Czech Republic; showing just how extensive trading was throughout Europe and the known world at this time. What came, as a great surprise to the conservationists was the amount and superb quality of the items of Filigree. All in all a visit to this museum to just view the Hoard is well worth the time.

The museum also includes many other treasures, Art, Ceramics, Roman and Greek artifacts and a whole area devoted to the people and history of Birmingham, once our greatest industrial city and the cradle of British Engineering that is admired throughout the world. The building itself is spectacular inside, beautifully kept and well laid out.

Just one downside. In the display of Roman & Greek cooking utensils and crockery, the bottle of Olive Oil still has its Morrisons label! Oops!!

The afternoon visit to Cadbury’s World was quite a contrast to the Museum visit.

We were warmly welcomed and soon ushered through the entrance, but not before receiving a selection of 3 bars of Cadbury’s chocolate.

We then entered the Aztec Jungle where we were transported back 1000 years in time to Mexico and through the tropical rainforest of the Mayan Indians. It showed the origins of the cocoa bean, amidst trees and waterfalls, deep in the ancient tropical rainforest; and how the cocoa tree was central to their culture.

A short film show told an inspiring story of John Cadbury’s struggle to establish the business and introduced us to his sons Richard and George. They told of their Quaker beliefs that led them to build a better kind of factory, in a green-field site away from the smoke and grime of the city. Next we walked through Advertising Alley displaying numerous advertising posters of their products through the ages. A special-effects cinema presentation, told us about the ingredients of milk chocolate and how they are combined to make a unique Cadbury taste. Here we were given a bar of Oreo chocolate.

The first Cadbury products could be seen in the principal shop opened by John Cadbury in 1824, in Bull Street. Many of the group enjoyed a Cadabra ride. We sat in small cars and enjoyed a gentle ride through a chocolate wonderland full of familiar characters.   Before exiting to the shop, we saw ladies decorating large chocolate Easter eggs. Then we were given a treat. A half-cup of warm chocolate with a choice of toppings to eat before visiting the huge shop. Before going back to the coach most visited the cafe.

There were numerous inter-active areas, circus skills, and an outdoor play area for the children.

A most enjoyable day out. Henry and Pam




Outing to Waterperry Gardens on 17th February 2018

This was the first outing of the year. It was a lovely morning, slighty cool but the sun was shining.

We had a very quick journey to the gardens and our coach was met by a guide who came on board and told us little about Waterperry. We were all given a bright pink sticker and then we were able to go and explore. Many made their way to the café, which was very busy all day. Some went to the gardens and the snowdrops first. There were not as many snowdrops as some venues we had been to in the past. We understand that they are nurturing them and that in 3 years time they will have a very splendid show.

Waterperry has more than beautiful gardens, it is a magical place, with a walled garden, garden shop, gift barn and potting shed, an art gallery, real life museum, Saxon church, and the house which is open on certain days of the week.

The museum was fascinating and had many items which we could relate to from our youth.

They now have a good sized Amphitheatre where they put on productions such as The Magic Flute and Pirates of Penzance.

Several of the group bought snowdrops and other gardening utensils.

We had a good journey home and all said they had enjoyed the visit. Pam



Outing to the Royal Albert Hall Christmas Carol Singalong 16 December 2017

This was the final outing for 2017.

It was a cold day but the coach, when it arrived, was nice and warm for us; everyone was early so we were able to depart on time. The journey’s there and back were very good. We reached Kensington in plenty of time to have a meal or a coffee. One of our photos shows 2 members standing outside a hotel and this is how they plan to decorate the outside of their homes!! The concert was a sell out; people were even standing in the top balcony. Jonathan Cohen was the conductor and he encouraged us to raise the roof of the Royal Albert Hall by clapping our hands, stamping our feet and singing our hearts out through a jamboree of fun filled much loved carols. He welcomed back his special guest Louise Dearman and the London Concert Chorus and London Concert Orchestra accompanied them. Many of the audience were entwined in Christmas lights and tinsel. The atmosphere was full of enjoyment and laughter. We all got our exercise with the 12 days of Christmas rising from our seats on “5 golden rings”; and standing swaying arms for several other carols. The afternoon was very pleasant and put us in the Christmas spirit mood. Pam

Visit to Richmond and Kew Gardens Christmas Lights 29 November 2017

It was a cold morning for our visit today. When the coach arrived it was warm inside and we had a good journey to Richmond. The town is on a meander of the River Thames; it has a number of parks and many protected conservation areas. Many of the buildings are listed architectural or heritage status. Although cold several visited the parks and enjoyed a walk alongside the riverside. In the summer it would be very appealing to spend longer relaxing and watching the boats sailing by. Many enjoyed the shops and were laden with bags when they got back to the coach. It was only a 15-minute drive to Kew. We were a little early so we sat on the coach in the warm until our allotted entry time. The sparkling trail had over one million twinkling lights illuminating heritage trees and buildings through the Gardens. It was fairy-tale meets fantasy in a world of singing trees, larger-than-life flora, ribbons of light, giant baubles, and a flickering Fire Garden. The Palm House leapt into life with a dazzling show of laser beams, jets of light and kaleidoscopic projections. A very creative 11 metre tall Christmas tree made from 365 illuminated wooden sledges made a “sledgetree”, this had a cycle of changing colour, soundscape and motion. The children caught a glimpse of Santa and his elves at the North Pole village and a vintage fairground ride could be enjoyed. The adults could warm up with some mulled wine or hot chocolate and toast marshmallows around the fire. The shop was well stocked with plants and Christmas gifts. Our journey home was good with plenty of chatter on board. Pam

Outing to Windsor and Windsor Castle 11th October 2017

We left Carterton on time and our journey to Windsor was comfortable and without delay. When we arrived at Windsor we were very surprised to see so many yellow jackets, being worn by both the police and stewards. (The police were carrying firearms). The pavements were edged with barriers and there was a feeling that something important was about to happen. Normally the passengers would make their way to a café, but on this occasion it was to the Castle entrance.  There was to be a parade of a Band made up, of Life Guards and Blues and Royals; and Scots Guards for the changing of the Guard. Changing the Guard, also known as ‘Guard Mounting’, begins with the Windsor Castle Guard forming up outside the main Guard Room. In due course, the new Guard will arrive, led by a Regimental Band. At the conclusion of the change over the old Guard returns to Victoria Barracks in Windsor town.

After the parade, as there is not a café inside the Castle grounds, it was time for refreshments before entering the Castle.

Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. It has been the family home of British kings and queens for almost 1,000 years.

Among the highlights of a visit to WindsorCastle is Queen Mary’s Dolls House, the largest, most beautiful and most famous dolls’ house in the world.

The State Apartments are furnished with some of the finest works of art from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto.

St George’s Chapel within the Castle Precincts is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, the oldest order of chivalry in the world.

Windsor Castle was so interesting, and as expected, steeped in history. The rooms were well maintained and some had exquisite chandeliers.

After visiting the castle, some took an open topped bus tour, others walked by the river and then, of course, there was shopping. The old station is the scene of an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria. It has now been largely converted into a shopping and refreshment complex, though there is still a local service from short platforms at the far end. On display in the station is a replica of the engine once used to drive the Queen’s train.

Feedback of the visit was that the day had been enjoyed enormously but tiring. Our driver took a slightly longer route home but we arrived back in Carterton without any traffic delays.


Outing to Stoke Bruerne and Canons Ashby 15 September 2017

At 9 o’clock we set out from Carterton on a dry typical Autumn day, and praying that the forecast showers would not spoil our day.

Stoke Bruerne is the home of the Canal & River Trust and is just a few miles to the south of Northampton, on the Grand Union Canal that runs from London to Birmingham. Luckily for us although dull the day was still dry. The locks are about halfway along the canal, and although only one operating lock and one redundant lock are to be seen, within a short walking distance are a series of 14 locks descending a total of 55 feet and in the direction of London. To the north is Blisworth Tunnel and we all took advantage of the canal boat ride that took us to the tunnel and a short way inside to experience what it would have been like in days gone by when boats lacked lighting. In its heyday, Stoke Bruerne was a very busy place with many thousands (circa 15,000+), boats passing per annum. During the early and middle 1800’s, horses on the towpath hauled all the boats. As horses could not go through the tunnel, boards were placed on the top of the cargo on which men laid their backs and then using their well-studded boots on the tunnel roof and walls, walked the boats through the tunnel. At 1¾ miles long, this was hard and exhausting work.

The museum was very interesting with much of the history of canals on show, including models, pictures, artifacts, storyboards and much more besides. As you would expect from our members much use was made of the rather nice café.

Soon we were off to Canons Ashby. This country house is the ancestral home of the Dryden Family who were Puritans originally from Ulster. The house is built from the ruins of Canons Ashby Priory, built by the Black Monks (Augustinians) and destroyed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the Monasteries. The church still survives and was well worth a visit. As Puritans, the Dryden’s were supporters of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and during the Civil War was a Roundhead Base. A battle with Cavaliers took place around the church and shot holes can still be seen on the walls. A reminder of those days can be seen in the house gardens, as the flowerbeds are all edged with Orange Marigolds. In the heat, smoke and mess of battle, the roundheads wore armbands or scarves of Orange to help distinguish them from the Cavaliers, many of the uniforms of both sides being of similar style and colour.

Unfortunately, at one point the heavens opened and we all dashed to the café for our included Cream Tea, which was very nice indeed. The house itself was very interesting, being homely but rather dark. Whether this was because the Dryden’s were Puritans or the furniture was uniformly dark, who can say.

All in all we had a very good day, and our thanks again to Pam for a well-organized trip. Henry Howard


Visit to London Palladium 23rd August 2017

On 23rd of August a coach full of U3A members set off for a visit to the London Palladium. We were to be treated to a backstage tour. On arrival we met our guide, Mark Fox, of the Really Useful Group. This company owns the theatre. Mark quickly proved to be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, funny and passionate about his job. After an initial chat about safety and a potted history of the area we were gathered in, we began our tour – (Aided by two former ‘Tiller Girls’ in costume, who were deputed to ensure no one got lost !) –  Our first stop was in a newly renovated area of the theatre. This had been a gift from Andrew Lloyd Webber on the Palladiums’ 100th birthday. We were treated to a history of the building which had begun its long life in 1650 as the country home of the Duke of Argyll. At that time it was completely surrounded by green fields and a lake!  After many interesting and varied incarnations, it opened as a theatre in 1910, just before Christmas.
Walter Gibbins owned it and the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham designed it. He designed over a 100 theatres and no two buildings were ever the same.
What originally began in 1910 as a  Music Hall, and very successful it was too, quickly developed into THE place to be for really big names in entertainment. A place where they all wanted to perform, and see their name in lights.  There was far too much said, and all of it interesting, to go into here! Suffice to say that two and a half hours of history, anecdotes, reminiscences and poking into surprising corners, like the Royal box, was a great experience.
As our tour progressed it became clear that the fabulous shows which we pay to see from the seats in the auditorium, are far from the glamorous dream. Backstage is just another workplace, albeit one that ultimately creates wonderful illusions. This  working area is small, practical and extremely well organised. I expect it would also be very hot and airless when an entire cast and crew are there. Not so glamorous backstage at all, just every day reality.
What was very clear is that it must be hard work putting on theatrical shows of quality, and also very expensive and complicated. Seeing  the props and the scenery for the current show both on the stage and behind it, was absolutely fascinating for a theatre buff like me. I was also amazed that the beautiful Edwardian auditorium seats well over 2000 people and can be reconfigured to suit each shows’ requirements.
Steeped in a long and fascinating history, this building of great charm has so many stories to tell. An interesting and very different visit, and a brilliant day out. Terri

Visit to Highclere Castle 17 July 2017

On a lovely warm and sunny morning a full coach party set off for Highclere Castle, or sometimes known as Downton Abbey, after the extensive filming of the series at the Castle. In fact it was a “Downton’s” paradise, filled with countless photographs and props. Highclere is now the home of the 8th Earl and Countess of Carnarvon; this has been the home of the Carnarvon Family for over 300 years. Sir John Barry designed the Castle in 1842, and he was also the architect for the Houses of Parliament. There are many similarities between the styles of the two buildings. Entering the Castle we were welcomed by a spectacular gothic entrance hall, with marble columns and a vaulted ceiling. During the visit we saw a collection of over 5,650 books in the library. In the Music room gilded panels and stunning 16th century Italian silk embroiders covered the walls. The 5th Countess of Carnarvon decorated The Drawing Room with green French silks. The Saloon forms the heart of the Castle   It has a 50 foot high vaulted ceiling. A grand sweeping Oak Staircase connects the Saloon with the bedrooms. The Dining Room has a portrait of Charles I by Van Dyck. In the cellars of the castle was an Egyptian Exhibition. In 1922 The 5th Earl of Carnarvon, together with a colleague Howard Carter, discovered the Tomb of Tutankhamun. The gardens have existed since medieval times. Much of the park and gardens, as it is seen today, was the work of Capability Brown and the 1st Earl of Carnarvon. The large wild flower meadow was amass with colour. The Secret Garden, Walled Garden and the Monks Garden were very colourful and picturesque with a large variety of flowers, bushes and trees. 3 café’s had a variety of hot and cold food and there were plenty of places to enjoy a picnic. We had a very good journey back to Carterton and it was agreed that we all had enjoyed the visit. Pam

Visit to SS Great Britain – 12th June 2017

On a very pleasant morning a coach party of 50 members travelled to Bristol to visit the historic SS Great Britain. Brunel’s SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the world. When she was launched in 1843 she was called ‘the greatest experiment since the Creation’. There was much to see and do in the Dockyard Museum. It was alive with sights, sounds and even smells.

The ship has been painstakingly restored inside, and also the upper deck and rigging to show how she looked in her heyday and to recreate life on the world’s first great luxury liner. Sitting on her glass ‘sea’, Brunel’s SS Great Britain dominates Bristol’s historic waterfront, adorned with flags and ready for departure, just as she looked after her launch in 1843.

Moisture is the enemy of the ss Great Britain and her iron hull is extremely vulnerable to corrosion. To keep the air as dry as possible the Dry Dock has been sealed by a huge water-line glass plate. The plate surrounds the ship, flooded with a shallow layer of water to give the illusion of being afloat. This also acts as an insulator, helping to save between 10% and 20% in energy bills. Beneath the plate the air is kept dry by a giant dehumidification plant (its sister plant lies inside the ship’s hull), which ensures the atmosphere around the hull, is maintained at a relative humidity of 20%. This means that the air in the Dry Dock is now as arid as that of the Arizona Desert!

The upper deck, known as the Weather Deck, looks today much as it did in 1845, when the very first passengers went aboard at the start of their voyage to New York. The deck space was divided into different areas for passengers travelling first, second class, and steerage. Only passengers travelling first class were allowed to cross a white painted boundary line into an area behind the mainmast especially reserved for their use. Those that are brave can climb the rigging. Our very own Wendy Atkinson stepped into the shoes of a Victorian sailor and climbed the huge mainmast to the acclaim of us all.

The Promenade Deck was a playground for the passengers who were able to pay for first class, luxury travel. Here they could walk, dance, flirt and socialise without having to get wet or windswept on the upper deck. We explored the cabins, located on either side of the Promenade Deck. We met some of the passengers who travelled first class on the SS Great Britain between 1845 and 1875. There was also the chance to dress in Victorian Costume and have photographs taken as though you were a real passenger. Ken and Jean Braddick took this opportunity. (see photo)

Eating and drinking was a big part of life on board. As soon as 1st class passengers got over their sea-sickness they came to the Dining Saloon to enjoy the best that the ship’s galley could offer.  2nd class and steerage passengers food was very rough and ready to say the least. The ship often carried more than 600 passengers and crew. The galley staff had to be able to keep all of those stomachs full without the opportunity to buy any extra supplies during the voyage.

Steerage, also know as third class, is where most passengers lived during the voyages. It was the cheapest accommodation and located on the lower decks in the forward end of the ship. Accommodation was certainly cramped but the biggest problem for most people was not the food or beds, but the noisy neighbours.

The forward hold looks today much as it did in 1970 when the salvage team brought the ship back from the Falkland Islands. This is one of the best places to see important features of the ship’s construction and how horses were carried when the ship was used to transport soldiers to the Crimean War.

The engine seen today is a full-scale working model constructed using modern lightweight materials. Visitors can see the engine turning, hear the sounds of stokers shovelling coal, and also smell the engine room and its oil and coal.

The harbour-side was lovely to stroll along with many coffee houses, boat trips, and the M shed museum which tells the story of Bristol.

Tied up to Wapping Wharf was The Matthew, which is a replica of the 15th Century caravel that John Cabot sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland in 1497. In 1997 she sailed across the Atlantic once more to mark the 500th anniversary of the original voyage. Today, The Matthew is a much-loved part of Bristol’s maritime heritage and is currently being refurbished

To end our visit we were treated to tea/coffee and cake in the Hayward Saloon (2nd class). Both our journeys were very good and we arrived back in Carterton happy, after having had a very enjoyable day.  Pam