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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Fortress Visit Report No. 7 Fort de La Prée, Ile de Ré

On the Sunday of my visit to Ile de Ré, I wanted to visit the Fort de La Preé. This is along the coast to the east of St Martin de Ré. I checked on t'Internet, opens in May for the summer season. Measuring it on the map, it was 7km from my hotel so I put on new walking boots and set off.

The route was along the coastal path, dodging the cyclists, fairly straightforward, gentlish walk which I really enjoyed. Good views across the water to mainland France, the weather was windy but sunny. Good sightings of turnstones, dunlins, shelducks and a red kite. Past some WWII German works, the subject of my next report.

I arrived at the fort to find it was closed. There was no indication of why or when the fort was to open. That was a bit of a letdown. I walked around the base for some photos and walked back the 7kms to the hotel.

The fort was built in 1625 - 26 with stone recycled from the nearby derelict Abbeye des Chateliers. It is a star fort with four bastions, a surrounding wall and a small harbour. Vauban visited it in 1684 and requested some modifications with, amongst other items, new wells and a powder magazine. It was abandoned shortly after, then revived during the Revolutionary period. It was declassified in 1934. The Germans made the fort part of their island defence, but now it is in private hands. Restoration work is ongoing.

Approaching from the West, first view of the Fort.

South-west bastion.

Bastion, entrance, bastion.

WWII German work 

Harbour redan on the left, outer wall ahead.

Closer view of the redan wall.

Sally port onto the seashore
So, in the end, a nice walk, the fort was much larger than I realised from Internet photos and plans, next time I will plan better. One good thing on the walk back, I was able to observe just how well sighted the German defences were.

Monday, 27 May 2013

England v New Zealand 2nd Test

We spent Saturday at Headingly, the home of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, to see day 2 of the second  test. Actually it turned out to be day 1 of play as the Friday was a wash-out. We had a very good day, as did the England Cricket Team.

Pre-match practice

YCCC's new media centre and changing rooms

Cricket grandees

Aggers for TMS

Cook & Compton stride out to open play

First ball

Yours truly, with sun protection

Friday, 24 May 2013

Congratulations Stephen Brumwell

Three days ago I was praising Stephen Brumwell's biography "George Washington : Gentleman Warrior". This morning I see the author has won the George Washington Book Prize awarded by the George Washington College for written work on ... George Washington. $50,000, very nice.

Seriously this is a very good book, I learnt a lot. Congratulations Stephen.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

"Star Trek Into Darkness" & "Oblivion"

So far, 2013 has been a good year for science fiction. On Sunday we went to the cinema to see the new Star Trek film. I've not much to add, the film has great reviews and deserves them, it is really well done, I was happy to pay the 3D premium. Go if you can.

Earlier this year we saw "Oblivion". I was very impressed, my partner she enjoyed it but not so much. Me, I thought it was a good story but the visuals, the concepts, the mise en scene, were what impressed me. I love buildings like these. Very stylish for post-apocalypse Earth.

We have two more to look forward to - "After Earth" with the Smith family and zombie fest "World War Z" - in the next few weeks. Can't wait.

The Brits in Hollywood continue to impress me. These two films have a couple of really good performances. Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek (along with Simon Pegg) and Andrea Risborough in Oblivion, wow, together with performances from Karl Urban and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, these are very international casts which is good to see. (This paragraph is pro-Brit, it is NOT anti-American, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldano,  Morgan Freeman, good solid performances the director can build a film on.)

A word about Tom Cruise. I know some people who will not see a Tom Cruise film, I cannot understand this. It seems they don't like his personal life-style religious choices, the details of which seem to be based on reports in cheap tabloid journalism. That is a shame. This year I have seen two really good films with him in the lead, "Oblivion " and "Jack Reacher". As I say to people, go see the films for yourself, Cruise makes good, entertaining films, don't rely on cheap journos who are desperate to sell glossy magazines.

Another word, this time about J J Abrams. I see he has taken on the Star Wars franchise. After seeing the new Star Treks and being a fan of the TV series "Fringe", this is good news, I look forward to the new films.

Music playing whilst I write this note - Mahler VI Symphony with Pierre Boulez conducting the Vienna Phil on DG.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

French Army in North America

For our summer holiday, in September last year my partner and I went to Bodrum in Turkey for a good poolside lounge and piggy eat-out. One of the books I read was a novel by Bernard Cornwell, "The Fort". Very good holiday read, a fictional tale of the American War of Independence/American Revolutionary War, but it did get me thinking.

I know very little about the conflicts in North America during the second half of the 18th century. I know the vague details, I know who won and lost, I've seen a few films, "Last of the Mohicans", "Revolution", "North West Passage" and such like. The very occasional BBC documentary. I don't remember looking at this in school. So the Cornwell book piqued my interest and, as my interest is in the French Military, what role did the French play in these conflicts.

I bought and read some books. First, "Empires Collide", edited by Ruth Sheppard and published by Osprey. A great book to start with, gave me a lot of info on the French & Indian War, dates, locations and so on, plus a good feeling for the geography of the action.

Then, purely by chance, in November I was in London on Marlebone High Street, walking past the Oxfam charity shop when I saw this biography of George Washington in the window so I bought it. I knew the name of Stephen Brumwell but not his work, nor did I know this was his latest book which had been very well received. I read it, thoroughly enjoyed it, again learnt a huge amount about dates and events and geography.

I remembered I had bought René Chartrand's series of books on the army of Louis XV which includes this volume. So one more book read.

Whilst doing all this reading I was watching E-bay to see what I could buy on the cheap and found two books on James Wolfe and his forces.

The first is a very slender biography by Richard Garrett, an old book but quite good if limited by its size. The second a very good book from the very dependable Osprey Publishing "Wolfe's Army" by Robin May and Gerry Embleton, and although bought from E-bay it was a new book.

My two latest acquisitions I have not read yet as I am sidetracked onto Napoleon Bonaparte and onto British Fortifications. Both acquisitions are from Osprey Publishing.

I had to pay a serious price for "Montcalm's Army", this seems to be a rare volume, very much in demand, it would be just my luck for Osprey to republish it at less than half what I have paid for it.

A mistake I have made was to purchase this:

I read the first fifty pages and could not take anymore. Definitely not for me.

Stephen Brumwell was very good so I have ordered his biog of James Wolfe from my favourite tax-dodger, Amazon UK, but they are having some difficulty getting a new stock, hopefully I can have this for this coming September's holiday. I would like a biography of Moltcalm but there does not seem to be one available in English (maybe I should write one), I loved Patrice Chéreau's acting the part of Montcalm in the 1992 "Last of the Mohicans", I love his diction and the way he pronounces the name Monroe, Scottish with a French accent.

Until now I have had no desire to visit North America except maybe to see a few buildings (less is more) but all this history is making me think, well, maybe, a tour of the Canadian forts, a couple of USA cities and some battlefields, 2015 or maybe 2016. Yes.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fortress Visit Report No 6 - St Martin de Ré

Back from Ile de Ré and La Rochelle, feeling a proper lemon. I took our Canon camera and the battery charger lead but not the battery charger, so I don't have many photographs. I bought a few postcards.

The town is quite small. The enceinte is very well maintained. The citadel at top right and the caserne just below it, these form a prison complex and so are not accessible.

There are two principal town portes, des Campani and de Toiras. Throughout France, portes like these were built with royal insignia such as a sunburst to represent the Sun King, Louis XIV. During the turbulence of the French Revolution, these emblems of the monarchy were attacked and removed. Porte de Campani still has its sunburst.
Porte des Campani, quite well kept, maybe in need of a little restoration.

Steps from a ravelin, into the ditch and through a caponier to a sally port, thence up to the talus.

A photograph of the citadel, from the plan relief of St Martin, Musée des Plans Relief.

Another from Musée des Plans Relief, of Porte des Campani.

The site was designed by Vauban in 1681 and completed by 1685. It is not a complex design, having four bastions, two demi-bastions and interval ravelins. The two bastions closest to the portes have been pierced to allow modern traffic into the town, excluding this, the walls are in very good condition, accessible, walkable in an afternoon, I am very pleased I went.

Monday, 6 May 2013

2me Empire - Chasseurs a Pied

I just had to share these marvellous pictures of Chasseurs a Pied from the Second Empire period. My thanks to Facebook page of "Le poilu de la marne".

Saturday, 4 May 2013

New boots - new bins - a cicular walk from Grassington

I bought some new boots. My Karrimor KSBs, that I purchased twenty years ago, have sprung a leak so I thought it was time for a new pair of walking boots. This time I wanted something lighter. I don't do the same long distances and I thought something lighter, easier for exploring Vauban forts. I picked a pair of Merrell Moabs.

My partner and her friend had booked onto a hack (a horsey thing) in Wharfedale, which is about 90 minutes drive from York. Did I went to go? No, but you can drop me at Grassington, I walk, you two ride, pick me up on the way home, please. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to test my new boots before I take them to France on Thursday. I can also take my new binoculars.

I chose a walk of about five miles/eight kilometres.

High Street, Grassington

Top of the village
 I was glad to be out walking. Spring is so late this year. The trees are just about coming into bud, no real leaf cover yet. The wood on the far hill is Grass Wood and my destination. The walk goes through the wood to the far side, then down to the river and back to the village.

Pre-World War 2, the wood was worked, coppiced for charcoal, so the trees are close together, Since the 1950s the wood has fallen into disuse but a few years ago Yorkshire Nature Trust bought it and have been doing repairs, taking out old or inappropriate trees and generally thinning out. This is a long, long process that cannot be rushed. Most of the work is done by unpaid volunteers. The logs can be sold but the remains are left to rot in situ, in small piles.

The view from the top of the wood, up the dale. Marvellous.

Dry stone wall, covered in moss.

The end of the walk. the bridge over the River Wharf leading back into Grassington. A very nice couple of hours. The boots - very comfortable.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013