Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2017

And so finally, after more than a week, here’s my little round-up of this year’s Liverpool Psych Fest.

The Good

Loop.


Obviously.
There was a little bit of kerfuffle at the beginning of the set with Loop’s traditional ‘shot with a diamond’ intro drone and it was quickly abandoned for a fairly full on, slightly aggressive set.
There wasn’t really much of a lightshow going on as the ‘Psych Colony’ canopy had been removed before they started playing so, for some of the set, at least, the band was basically silhouetted against the background projections. This prompted the (now classic) quip from Robert, “these lights are about as psychedelic as my cat” (obviously this has now lead to a number of discussions about the levels of psychedelia in the feline brain. Cats can actually be pretty psychedelic at times).

Magnetix


Not new, but new to me. I walked into Camp, heard 3 seconds of music and sprinted to the front for a bop. This French band has the drummer-guitarist, 2 piece configuration, making fun, boppy, hilarious garage music. The guitarist looks like your square uncle, trying to act like he’s down with the cool kids. The drummer looks like the ‘way-out-of-his-league’ cool girl who somehow manages to make him cool, geek-style. This is fun 😀

Ex-Easter Island Head Large Ensemble


The Large Ensemble played on Saturday afternoon and was well worth arriving in time for. About 30 or so musicians on stage, all with guitars (laid out on tables), little hand bells, drums, tappy things, plucky things and I-know-not-what. And clapping. All together creating a varied and absorbing, almost orchestral sound. I liked this a lot and would like to see them again. Maybe in a space like a theatre or concert hall, or somewhere like the Union Chapel, perhaps. They did actually play in London recently but I couldn’t go on that date and just thought “oh well, I’ll see them in Liverpool”. I’ll try very hard not to miss them next time.

The Telescopes


The question with The Telescopes is always “how many guitars?” They’re a band that can sound really quite different every time you see them and the guitar ratio is a major factor in this. I’ve seen them with from 1 to 6 guitars onstage, at Psych Fest, it was 4 (unless I’ve missed any out), so fairly guitary.
If you’re thinking of going to see them out of nostalgia, expecting There is No Floor and Seventh Sharp Disaster, forget it. They’ve moved on a long time ago, although they do still sometimes play Perfect Needle (not at Psych Fest), and that song works in the context of their more recent material. I like The Telescopes. I like their newest 5-track album, and I liked this set. I particularly like the Captain Caveman drumming 😀

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs


AKA, Pigs x7.
The venue where Pigs x7 were playing, District, can be a bit of a faff to get into at times, and doesn’t have the best views, especially if you’re short-ish, like me. So, wanting to make sure that I could get to see Pigs x7, I got to the venue nice and early. The band were setting up and soundchecking and a polite, tidy-looking fellow in a smart black shirt was tweaking his mic and requesting some pretty specific levels of echo and reverb.
The lights dimmed.
This polite, tidy-looking fellow then proceeded to tear off his shirt, roaring, leering, wrapping the the mic cord round his neck, elbow-bashing his keyboard, speaker-stack climbing. There was an incident with a sparkly pink cowboy hat. Buckfast. Oh, and some music too. Fun 😀

The Bug vs Dylan Carlson


The Bug vs Dylan Carlson played the late night spot after Loop. I had though that I was going to miss at least some of the set (see below) but late running meant that I was in Camp in time for the start. I think that they were struggling with some technical issues which, unfortunately, meant that much of the audience had wandered off by the time they got started. This was a shame because once it did get going, the sound was great. Loud, super bassy, and slllllooooooowwwww. This isn’t exactly music to bop to but has a really power and uncompromising intensity that makes it riveting ( and sometimes, frankly, hilarious). No psychedelic lightshows here, just a single red spot and billowing clouds of smoke. And that’s how you do heavy.

Sex Swing


After a battle-royale getting into Camp (see below), we managed get a good spot to see Sex Swing. I saw Sex Swing at the Transformer day over in Manchester and rather liked them. They play heavy, very rhythmic music. With a sax, so there’s also some honking. They played a new song (not that I’d know), which was really good.

Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi (DJ set)

Again there seemed to be a little bit of technical trouble (this year’s theme?) but once they got going, Steve Davis and Kavus Torabi provided all the bounce you need to stay later than you had intended. Lots of jazz hands, finger pointy, speaker-stack climbing and charging about the stage, particularly by Torabi. I stayed as long as I could, for the fun, and then had to head off to bed (seriously, I’d had 4 hours sleep the night before and was cream crackered).

 

Musings in Drone – AUDiNT : A Century of Zombie Sound


On the other occasions that I’ve been to Psych Fest, I haven’t managed to get to any of the Saturday afternoon talkie sessions, but his time I was keen to, especially the talk entitled ‘ A Century of Zombie Sound’. I’m glad that I managed to get there because it did cover some really intriguing developments, theories and uses of different kinds of audio and visual recording technology since WW2.
These included such jiggery-pokery as the US military’s WW2 ‘ghost army’; the positing of ‘Stone Tape Theory’ as an explanation for ghosts; the uses and abuses (real and imagined) of ‘backmasking’; and, more recently the resurrection of dead rappers as holograms. It alos looked forward to future developments, although not too far into the future, just to about 2050, so this was extensions and developments of existing technology.

The Bad
Trad, Gras och Stenar
OK, I know that these are on a lot of people’s ‘good’ lists but they were just way too prog for me. My bad.

Dirty Fences
Lordy-lord. Me and my pal walked into Camp and were confronted with what sounded like the Tweenies playing the Foo Fighters. This was not good. We left soon after.

KVB
I’ve seen KVB a couple of times before and found them a bit lifeless. It’s like they want to be all ‘pumped-up-power-pop-duo’ but they’re just so weak. In the biggish space of Camp they sounded even more weak and tinny. They just don’t excite me at all.

The food
What happened? A half-hour queue for chips? This is daft. The food offering was pretty limited and just not worth the wait. We learned our lesson on Friday and, on Saturday, we went out for an early dinner.

The crazy bouncer at Camp
Picture the scene: a band finishes playing and Camp empties out as people go off to catch other bands, buy drinks, have their brain scanned etc. A large crowd has formed outside Furness, as the venue is full with people seeing W.I.T.C.H and wanting to see Black Angels. People wanting to see Sex Swing start to make their way to the virtually empty Camp but are stopped by the bouncer who tells us that we have to go in via Furness. “But Furness is full!” we say. “They’re not letting anyone in because it’s full!”. The bouncer insists that we must go to Furness and then enter Camp via the little narrow corridor between the two venues. The crowd outside Camp grows a little larger. “Let us in!” people shout. “Furness is full” people shout. The bouncer become increasingly agitated, shouting, lunging at people, waving his arms around, adamant that no-one will pass. After about 10 minutes of this, there is quite a bit of a crowd outside, the almost completely empty, Camp when, suddenly, the bouncer just goes off in a strop. “He’s gone. Quick! We can go in” someone shouts. And so we all bundle in and disaster is averted. Sex Swing play to a decent sized audience rather than just the bar staff.
Random.

Need to see more

Acid Arab
I had really wanted to see Acid Arab, enough to sacrifice some of The Bug’s set for them, but didn’t really work out very well. They were playing in District, which is a tricky venue and, having got past the door security which was enforcing 1-in-1-out, I couldn’t see them at all (really, not even a bit); I was surrounded by very tall people who insisted on carrying out very loud conversations, so I could hardly hear them either; I seemed to be on the route to everywhere so I spent the whole time being pushed this way and that, not by people dancing but by people going to the bar, going to the door, going to have a chat with the other very tall people, so I couldn’t even just have a dance. In the end I gave up and went back to Camp for The Bug (who were late getting started so I didn’t miss anything). I think I’d like to try again somewhere with a bit more of a conducive atmosphere and (hopefully) audience.

Nonn
Nonn are a Fuzz Club signing from Sweden. I like Fuzz Club and, although I’ve never actually been to Sweden, I’m quite prepared to say that I like it too. I was a little bit conflicted about Nonn though. On the one hand, I rather liked their electro-y New-Order-Lite set. On the other hand, I felt that they seemed to be in serious need of a bit of oomph. Maybe it was because I could barely hear the guitar (seriously, get some pedals on it and turn it up!). If only they would pump it up a bit I think that I’d quite like this band.

Didn’t get to see, dammit!

Gnod, WH Lung, Duds, Container. You’re on my list. I am (eventually) coming to getcha.

Right. So that’s Psych Fest for 2017. Good? Or rubbish?

Good 😀

There was lots of other stuff too; popping in and out of the venues to see a bit of this and a bit of that; the coffee tent; the drinks token system which worked well, I thought; upstairs at Furness is a nice place to just hang out. Some people have mithered a bit about headliners – are they psych? Are they big enough to headline a festival? Are they any good? I think that for me, Pysch Fest is a festival where the headliners don’t necessarily make or break it. They don’t have to be the main draw (for me). There are so many other bands to see, things to do, VR to play with etc, that the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. It’s a good way to spend a weekend.

Fin

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Music makes me lose control

Frankfurt’s Museum für Kommunikation, on the Main riverbank, was founded in 1958 as the Federal Postal Museum (Bundespostmuseum) and its remit covers a pretty broad spectrum of all modes of communication. It’s currently undergoing a major refurbishment so much of the museum, including the permanent collection is currently off limits, but while I was in Frankfurt, I spotted a poster for a very tempting exhibition that I just couldn’t resist.

It’s ‘‘ Oh Yeah! Pop Music in Germany’, charting the history of popular music in Germany from the 1920s to the present. 😀

On entering the expo, I was giving a pair of headphones and directed to the first lot of listening stations for some modern German pop. This was pretty awful, but I’m not deterred by such things as it’s in the nature of pop for a lot of it to be pretty awful.

This was one of those exhibitions that’s a lot of fun, as well as being informative. There were loads of listening points to plug into, going back in time from the present to the 1920s, with cases of pop-star outfits and memorabilia, instruments, films, pop videos and posters.

 

The displays are grouped by genre/subculture as well as time period and there’s a whole section on Goths, with a handy guide showing images and detailing the key characteristics of the various sub-groups.

 

The stories of some of the musical movement are told in relation to the political and social upheavals of the 20th century and, clearly, Germany in the 20th century had some pretty notable political and social shifts. Some of the displays you can’t help but think of seriously. Nazi pop anyone?

With others, it’s a little more difficult to get past the terrible hairstyles and over-acted pop videos in order the reach any serious commentary on the politics of the day lurking beneath the froth.

I think that my favourite sections were the ‘build-up to the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall’ 1980s, the section on electronic music and the Krautrock. These included artists and songs that you just couldn’t leave out of an exhibition on pop music in Germany. Who could forget the time when nuclear armageddon was triggered by accident?

And here’s Nena is a slightly frothier guise.

Ahhh, the eighties *snigger*.

pop11

The section on electronic music had some great artefacts on display, and the most obvious exponents on the screen.

 

And then there was Can.

This was a very fuzzy film of them performing ‘Spoon’ in 1972, with Damo dancing around in a red catsuit 😀

I was having such a good time listening to all the good, and terrible, music, that I ended up having to run like the wind to catch my train 😀 The exhibition runs until 25th February 2018, so if you happen to be in Frankfurt with an hour or two to spare, give it a whirl.

 

Written in stone

Fifteen or so miles west of Mannheim is the town of Bad Durkheim. It’s an attractive spa town; a bit sleepy I think. Getting there from Mannheim is pretty easy, although slightly complicated by works on the S-Bahn line. And this is what I was there for.

Up on the hill above the town, in a clearing in the woods is the old Roman quarry known as Kriemhildenstuhl. I’ve been to Roman quarries before but if I ever say to someone that I’m going on holiday to visit a quarry, I tend to get a slightly blank look and a hesitant enquiry about what on earth there is to see in a quarry. A quarry is, after all, just a big hole on the ground. It’s what we see after people have taken away all the stuff that they want. It’s the gap that’s left.
But wait! There’s a lot more going on here than just a big empty hole in the ground. Let’s have a closer look.

The first thing that’s really clear to see is the way that the stone was being cut.

Big squarish blocks cut out of the rock face, which were then taken out to be cut up into usable-sized blocks, or cut down into columns away from the main quarry face. We can also see the marks left by the cutting tools. These are really clear, all over the exposed surface of the rock.

Now, there’s plenty of evidence around the Empire for Roman soldiers getting a bit bored and scribbling on things, and Kriemhildenstuhl has oodles of it. Some of the inscriptions are indicated on the cliffs, others not, but there’s a very handy guide at the site to help with spotting them.

There are squiggles and doodles all over the place.

The unit working the quarry was Legio XXII Primigenia, “Fortune’s Twenty-Second Legion”, who were stationed at Mainz, Moguntiacum, around 200CE.  We can tell this because they left their mark all over the quarry faces.

The Legion’s insignia were the Capricorn (half goat, half fish) and the demi-god Hercules. So here’s Capricorn…

And here are some fellows who may or may not be Hercules…

Keeping with the military theme, these shapes could be representing stylised military standards.

Soldiers from the 22nd seem to have had a fondness for horses, as there is plenty of graffiti of a horsey nature etched into the rock.

There are also birds and other animals.

Some pics require a little ‘eye of faith’. Is this something?

A number of the soldiers have etched inscriptions into the rock; names, regiment, “I woz ‘ere”, that sort of thing.

Kriemhildenstuhl is just one feature in these hills and there seemed to be walking trails going in all directions, including up to a ridge immediately above the quarry. The view of the quarry from above was great.

This upper ridge provided a nice spot to chill out, have a drink and relax before setting off down the hill and back to Mannheim. The local authority had kindly provided the most chilled out park bench ever for just this purpose.

Horse guards parade.

The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition currently on display at ten sites across the northern frontier lured me up north for a short visit. As I didn’t have the time to get to all of the exhibition sites, I prioritized the expos in Newcastle and Carlisle at the Great North Museum: Hancock, at Arbeia Roman Fort & Museum, at Segedunum and at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery.

I’ve previously written about the extreme coolness of Roman cavalry parade helmets, so this is a little bit of an extension of that, as well as just a general Roman cavalry parade helmet love-in.

First up, Arbeia.

Arbeia Roman Fort, situated at a strategic point on the River Tyne was founded in about 120CE and was occupied right up until the end of the Roman period in Britain. Throughout this long life-span, the fort served as a base for (among others) auxiliary units of cavalry from Spain,  the First Asturian, and boatmen from Mesopotamia. It was converted into a supply station in the Severan period, handling the import of commodities destined for troops in the military zone.

At Arbeia Roman Fort, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, ‘Uncovering cavalry‘ is more about highlighting objects in the existing collection with just a couple of additions of objects on loan. This iron cavalry helmet from Limesmuseum Aalen is known as an ‘Alexander’ type due to its resemblance to portraits of Alexander the Great from around the same period, CE150-250.

Many surviving cavalry helmets are made from copper-alloy, sometimes coated in silver, but far fewer iron helmets have been found as they are more prone to corrosion. This helmet was found in a scrap metal dump near the workshops of Aalen cavalry fort.

A quick hop over the Tyne on the ferry took me to Segedunum. The larger exhibition there, ‘Rome’s elite troops – building Hadrian’s cavalry’, looks at the make up of the cavalry units and some of the manoeuvres used by cavalry units in battle.

Segedunum Roman Fort was built in about 127CE, when Hadrian’s Wall, originally starting at Pons Aelius (Newcastle upon Tyne) in 122AD, was subsequently extended by four miles to the east, to Wallsend. The fort was home to mixed cavalry-infantry units including the Second Cohort of Nervians in the 2nd century and, in the 3rd and 4th centuries the Fourth Cohort of the Lingones.

Alongside objects from Segedunum’s own collection are several helmets and helmet cheek-pieces on loan. One unusual helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins is this double-eagle crested helmet, a type worn by members of the Imperial Horse Guard in the third century.

  

Also in the exhibition is this silvered shield boss on loan from a private collection in the UK. The boss shows significant damage, probably sustained in battle during the Dacian Wars.

The boss is decorated with incised images of mythological subjects; Mars, Medusa, Jupiter, Apollo and Hercules. The outer part is decorated with images related to battle; shields, winged Victories, armour and a helmet.

There are two inscriptions on the boss; at the top, a statement of the ownership of the shield by Marcus Ulpius, a member of the Imperial Horse Guard in the time of the Emperor Trajan, and at the bottom, a record of the donation of the shield boss as an offering by Flavius Volussinus in memory of Marcus Ulpius.

Back in town, I went off to Newcastle’s Great North Museum: Hancock to see two helmets of a particular type. The display there, ‘Hadrian’s Cavalry: Shock and awe – the power of the Roman cavalryman’s mask’ shows the Ribchester Helmet (on loan from The British Museum) together with a second helmet of the same type (on loan from a private collection).

 

The Ribchester Helmet was found in Lancashire in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. It’s a bronze ceremonial helmet with a distinctive peak. The second helmet has been dated to roughly the same period as the Ribchester Helmet; 70-110CE/75-125CE.

Also at the GNM is Mithras.

The museum is home to a brilliant collection of Mithraic images and objects collected from sites along and around Hadrian’s Wall. Alongside more familiar mithraic imagery of the Tauroctony and the companions of Mithras, Cautes and Cautopates, this collection also includes this amazing carved stone sculpture of the birth of Mithras, with the god emerging from the Cosmic Egg.

Added to this, until 27th August, are three objects on loan from the collection at the Museum of London. The three marble busts were found buried under the floor level of the Mithraeum at Bucklesbury. They are a marble head of Minerva, the head of Serapis and the head of Mithras himself.

This is such a great idea. Bringing together the two best Mithras collections in the country. It’s also a good opportunity to have a bit of  look at Mithraeism in two different environments; the Mithraeums up on Hadrian’s Wall were in a military zone and associated with forts; e.g. Housesteads/Vercovicium and Carrawburgh/Brocolitia, while the London mithraeum was in civilian, urban area. The accompanying film also looks at the discovery of the London mithraeum in the 1950s.

A swift trundle west to Carlisle brought me to Tullie House Museum for the Guardians on the edge of empire – cavalry bases and Roman power exhibition, and more helmets. This is the largest of the exhibitions that I visited and there were some fantastic objects on display.

The fort at Carlisle, Stanwix/Uxelodunum, is thought to have housed cavalry troops, most the Ala Petriana. Home to a thousand mounted troops and their horses and support staff. This unit’s exceptional service earned them Roman citizenship while still serving. This is the unit in which Flavinus the signifer whose memorial now stands in Hexham Abbey, served, albeit at an earlier date.

The exhibition focuses, again, on the role and organization of the cavalry on the frontier and has an impressive range of helmets, face masks and other armoury pieces on display.

There are some pretty showy pieces, including this 2nd-3rdc. CE ‘Ostrov’ type helmet from Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins.

The helmet is a shape similar of one found in a burial at Ostrov, Romania and has a distinctive Phrygian cap shape on the upper part, topped with the head of a griffin and covered in scales.

The Gallery Attendant on duty when I visited was also very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the exhibition, and I had several conversations with her while I was looking round. She was particularly interested in this 3rdc. CE Amazon face mask (from Archäologische Staatssammlung München) and wondered about its origins and possible influences on the styling.

 

It really has a strong eastern look, reflecting the exoticism of the Amazon warriors. But comparing  it with the second Amazon face mask in the exhibition (mid-2nd – mid-3rdc. CE, from Archäologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Württemberg) just shows up how exotic this one really looks.

This 1stc. CE ‘kalkreise’ type face mask (below), on loan from a private collection, is interesting as it has markings on the cheeks. As Imperial cavalry forces were usually auxiliary, i.e.non-citizen, units raised in provinces incorporated into the empire, these could have been indicative of tribal tattoos.

It’s really interesting to see the number of helmets and masks, and other pieces of armour, on display that are from private collections. This makes these displays even more worth seeing while they’re on, as there’s no telling whether they’ll be displayed in public again.

So there you are. A little peek at a few of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibitions. It would have been nice to have been able to do all ten as a road trip but I only had time for a flying visit. And I should also just point out that these exhibitions are in addition to the already excellent Roman collections at the museums and sites in question. Of course, on the back of seeing these exhibitions and displays, I’m now going to have to get down to Mougins to visit the museum there, and it has encouraged me to add more of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium to the (never-ending) list.

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The Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition continues until 10th September at ten sites along Hadrian’s Wall and down the western coast as far as Maryport.

More Bridges of the World

On the walkways of Tower Bridge there is currently a display of other iconic, interesting, ancient and modern bridges around the world.

There are some big hitters in the display; the Pont Neuf; the Golden Gate Bridge; Ironbridge, and some interesting but less widely known examples, for example the Moses Bridge at Fort de Roovere, Halsteren, Netherlands. Looking at this exhibition, an in-passing conversation got me thinking about other bridges that have taken my fancy on my travels, so here are a few ‘Other Bridges of the World’.

The Tower Bridge display include a beautiful bridge which I was fortunate to visit in Isfahan, Iran, the Allāhverdi Khan Bridge, more commonly known as Si-O-So-Pol.

Here are a few of my images of this lovely bridge.

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A little way to the west of the Si-O-So-Pol bridge is another mid-17th century beauty, the Khaju Bridge.

Again, the bridge is built of two levels of arcades, and has the original tiles and paintings still intact.

The bridge works as both a bridge and a weir, but it also has a function as a buildings for meetings, a space for the Shah Abbas, the Persian Safavid king, to relax, take tea and admire the view.

The weir’s effect on the river is very evident but, as long as the water isn’t too high, it’s quite safe to sit by the water to enjoy the cool space on a hot day.

When I visited, the area around both of these bridges and along the riverside was peppered with people; individuals, couples, groups of friends and families, all enjoying the same relaxing space as the Shah Abbas. Strolling along the riverbank, sitting by the water, listening to music and eating ice-cream. Some things never change.

The sole Roman Bridge in the Tower Bridge display is the Pont du Garde, near Nimes in France.

I’m including another Roman bridge here for good measure. In Algeria, crossing the El Kantara gorge in Biskra, on the journey south to Ghardaia, we came to the El Kantara Roman Bridge.

The bridge was substantially rebuilt under Napolean but its roots are Roman. Built, probably, by the Third Legion Augusta, who were stationed at Lambaesis, this bridge crossed the gorge which was, and still is, the gateway to the desert. This made it a vital point of access for trade and people.

The bridge eventually fell into disrepair but was  renovated and widened under Napoleon.

Some of the original Roman construction blocks can be seen, and there is also an area of the original pavement, although it doesn’t look like it’s still in situ.

During our visit, we were joined at the bridge by a wedding party, and the happy couple has photos taken by the side of the river and on the bridge. We were told that it’s a bit of a tradition in the area to have wedding photos taken there and it’s certainly a lovely spot for it.

In the exhibition is a bridge which became a victim of war and, subsequently, a symbol of  post-war recovery and reconcilliation: Stari Most, the Mostar Bridge.

Originally built in the 16th century, on 9th November 1993, the Mostar Bridge was destroyed by Croat forces in the Croat-Bosniak War. Its destrucion has been described as a deliberate attack on the culture of Mostar in an act of “killing memory”*, so its reconstruction and reopening in 2004 acted as a symbol of the town’s recovery, both physically and culturally.

A bridge in my own alternative exhibition has suffered a similar fate and, we must hope, may yet act as a symbol for the future. In the northern Syrian town of Deir-ez Zor stood the Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge (Arabic: جسر دير الزور المعلق‎‎).

Deir ez-Zor suspension bridge, early misty morning.

This bridge was built in 1927, under the French Mandate and acted as a pedestrian route across the Euphrates, connecting the Levant region of the city on the southern bank with the Upper Mesopotamia region on the north bank. When I visited Deir-ez Zor in 2009, I was particularly gleeful about being able to walk from the Levant to Mesopotamia.

 

The bridge was destroyed in May 2013 in shelling by the Free Syrian Army.

Deir-ez Zor has suffered horribly in the Syrian War and this situation continues with no obvious end in sight. Clearly I have no idea how the situation in Syria will be resolved but I can only hope that one day, soon, the Deir-ez Zor Suspension Bridge might act as a symbol for the end of war and the beginning of recovery, as has the Mostar Bridge.

To end on a slightly less depressing note, a bridge that’s a bit more modern.

One of the (many) things I like about Newcastle is the great abundance of bridges over the Tyne. There are railway bridges and road bridges, some of them towering above the river and the streets below them.

There’s a swing bridge!

Walking over the Tyne Bridge feels like an act of folly due to the thunderous traffic, but it’s quite fun nevertheless.

But there is also a more recent and more chilled out bridge taking pedestrians from the city over to the Baltic on the Gateshead side of the river: the Gateshead Millennium Bridge.

Work on the bridge began in 1999 and it opened to the public in September 2001. It is a bit of a symbol of the regeneration of the riverside area. I’m pretty sure that anyone who lives in an old industrial city can testify, ‘regeneration’ can be a double edged sword. Down at heel, even derelict areas can be brought back to life and made really nice. The addition of a decent cafe is always welcome. But in the rush to lure new money and new people to an area, ‘regeneration’ can often ignore the people who already live or work there. I’m not sure exactly how the people of Newcastle feel about their riverside’s regeneration but, as a visitor, I like it.

It’s a tilting bridge which consists of two steel arches, one which carries the footpath and the other which acts as a counterweight. Like Tower Bridge, the Gateshead Millennium Bridge ‘opens’ for river traffic to pass underneath, but rather than using the split roadway idea, the entire bridge tilts.

Despite having seen and walked across this bridge lots of times, I’d never seen it actually tilting but on a recent quick jolly up north to see some of the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition, I was able to catch it on its regular midday tilt**. It’s brilliant 😀 I already liked this bridge but, having now seen it tilting, I like it even more.

These are just a few bridges that have impressed themselves on my memory on my travels. There are others that I really like, in Constantine, Algeria; at Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland and, of course, in London, but I think that I’ll leave those for another day.

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*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stari_Most#Reconstruction

** There’s a little Youtube video here: https://youtu.be/lQ0ZqeE7vB0

Where all roads meet

Well, maybe not ‘all’ but 7, in any case.

From the area map at the bus stop.

This is Bavay, in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of northern France, close to the France-Belgium border. A sleepy little village that isn’t really on the way to or from anywhere. But 2000 years ago, Bavay was on the way to loads of places.

Bavay, or Bagacum in the 1st century CE, was the tribal capital or civitas of the powerful Nervii tribe.  Seven major routes passed through Bagacum so it grew into an important site for trading, administration, law courts and the military. Its situation on the road from Boulogne (Roman Gesoriacum) to Cologne (Roman Colonia  Agrippinensis) made it a key stopping off point between the Roman provinces of Germania and Britannia.

The site was known about in the eighteenth century as chance finds and unofficial digs turned up many Roman objects, but the site was really uncovered due to heavy bombing during WW2. The post-war excavations revealed a huge Gallo-Roman forum basilica, the largest outside Italy, measuring 200m by 120m.

In the Claudian period, the town flourished and grew rapidly, with the construction of civic buildings like the forum, the basilica, public bathhouses fed by aqueducts and temples being built and beautified. The town was an important centre for the production of pottery goods and traded in, in particular, bronze-working, and was a key staging post during the conquest of Britain.

I’d been wanting to get to Bavay for a little while and had pondered making my way over there when I was staying in Belgium last year, but it’s a faff to get to on public transport and a lot of routes take absolutely hours to get there. It’s not a natural stopping off point on the way to or from anywhere in particular so this time I decided that I’d just make it the be all and end all of a visit. The easiest route was London > Lille, Lille > Valenciennes, Valenciennes > Bavay, so, timetables checked, I was off.

By the time I got to Bavay it was pouring with rain, and I’d left my umbrella in London. Oh well. There’s a museum to visit at the site, so I started there, hoping that the rain would ease off a bit.

(cue museum break)

By the time I left the museum not only had it stopped raining, but it was scorching hot; cracking flags! My stroll around the site was, therefore, a slow and lazy one. A lot of the better preserved sections seem to have been buried in the building of the later ramparts, hence the excellent state of preservation.

At one end of the site there are the remains of a cryptoporticus; a covered storage area below ground level.

Much of the site has been turfed over but here and there, there are still little patches of the Roman paving. There’s even the odd wheel-rut.

The fortunes and function of the city began to changes in the third-century, when it served as a post for regional defence, and around the turn of the fourth century, the ramparts and city walls were constructed.

Getting to Bavay without a car was a bit of a schlep but it was worth it, as it’s a really interesting site with a great museum. As I had to pass through Valenciennes and Lille to get there, I made a point of visiting a few other places on the way, including the Musee des Beaux Art, Valenciennes and Lille Cathedral, so all in all this made for a great little trip.