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Tag: travel

Art break: Kara Walker's Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern

At the end of our Fen Rivers Way walk we spent a couple of nights in London. One of our main goals was to go to the Tate Modern and see the current installation in the Turbine Hall. I’d read about Kara Walker’s new work in the Guardian and we felt really fortunate that our trip would overlap with the exhibit. We were staying in Holborn and it was one of those cloudy/sunny London days, so we walked down to the Tate in the morning. There wasn’t much of a crowd yet, and the Turbine Hall is free to enter.

Walker’s sculpture is a reimagining of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. That original piece was commissioned as a celebration of the Queen-Empress and her accomplishments, complete with a Winged Victory statue at the top. Walker’s has Venus in its place, one who spouts water from both breasts as well as from her neck.

It’s a breathtaking piece which interrogates imperialism, the 19thC fetish for nationalist and imperial monuments, and the UK and US’s still under-examined and very partial understanding of the consequences of their imperial enterprises. The nautical aspects of the original work here call forth memories of the Atlantic slave trade, with the ships lost as sea, the families torn apart, and the sharks that filled the waters (the sharks are also a reference to the famous Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde).

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Holiday road trip (outbound)

We drove out to CA again for the winter break, taking the southern route. The weather was mostly with us, except for the snowstorm across Arizona:

It wasn’t too bad at first, and we were at the front of the storm, but that meant we drove into it and it got worse:

But TheH deployed his excellent driving skills, the snow turned into rain, and we came out on the other side. Kingman to Barstow was easy and fast so we went on to Tehachapi and overnighted there. We made an early start and got in by lunchtime, to a cool and cloudy day. I love winter light.

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Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 3

We left Downham Market in good time after a traditional and filling Full English breakfast. Well, I had the Full English; TheHusband was more restrained. We walked back out of town, pausing only to pick up a Cornish pasty and sweet roll at the bakery we’d seen on the way in. Our lunches had been a bit sketchy the previous two days because the pubs were either too early in the walk, closed, or too far off the road when we passed by them (and there weren’t many to begin with). The bakery smelled wonderful and was doing a brisk business at 8:45 on a Monday morning.

This was our last day and the walk to King’s Lynn was a straight 13-mile shot up the Great Ouse. For the first couple of miles we walked on a high bank that lies between the river and the channel, and the weather was cool and cloudy.

The river had turned tidal by this point, and there were fewer swans and birdlife overall, but the cormorants we saw looked like sleek fighter jets. Speaking of which, the quiet was regularly broken by very loud fighters which we couldn’t see but could definitely hear. Looking at our maps on a break, we discovered that we were quite near RAF Marham, a major base.

It was an uneventful walk through the morning, with bridges spanning the river every two to three miles. After a couple of hours we closed in on the Wiggenhall villages: St. Germans, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Mary the Virgin, and St. Peter. Wiggenhall St. Peter features a beautiful church that is now in ruins:

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Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 2

The second day of our walk fell on a Sunday, so we were a bit later starting out. But our inn was right on the path, so we hopped the stile and walked half a mile to the Littleport train stop. We then took a right and headed up onto the bank to the bridge that would take us to the east side of the river and the path north. This is one of the least attractive parts of the walk, because the path lies between the river and the A10 motorway. Since it was Sunday the traffic was lighter but it was still unpleasant, and we even had a White Van Man yell something out the window at us (we couldn’t make out the exact words but they weren’t words of encouragement). We slogged on in the wind and cold for about three miles, when we came to a junction where a creek joined the river. At that point we were more than ready to see the motorway fork right while we forked left.

In previous years’ accounts of this stretch walkers had talked about how difficult the path was. Luckily, it had been mowed by a large machine and so we weren’t fighting chest-high plants. We encountered a retired farmer who told us that the mowers had been through less than a month ago, so we really felt fortunate. We saw a few birds, including the ever-present swans, but not as many as on the previous day.

We also had up close and personal views of the agricultural productivity of the region. This is one of several hay buildings we saw on the way:

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Fen Rivers Way Walk, Part 1

We skipped Thanksgiving this year in favor of another walking holiday. We didn’t have much time, because the semester is not yet over (*cries*) but we were able to put together a week and go to England. Given it was late November and therefore likely to be cold, rainy, and dark, we looked for a path that would be doable under a variety of conditions. We settled on the Fen Rivers Way, which runs from Cambridge to King’s Lynn along the Cam and Great Ouse rivers.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in Cambridge (TheH has lived in or near there for stretches of time since he was a teenager), and we’ve visited Ely and its magnificent cathedral, as well as surrounding villages. And we’ve even walked part of the river path from Cambridge. But we’d never been to King’s Lynn or that corner of Norfolk. It is very flat, but the Fens are beautiful in their own way. Efforts to drain the Fens and make them agriculturally productive began in the 17th century and there are some impressive feats of engineering. In addition, people live in narrowboats along the rivers, so you have that culture as well. It can be very windy, but that part of southeast England gets less rain than a lot of the country, so we decided to chance it.

The path itself is 48-50 miles, and we allotted three days. These would be longer days mileage-wise than we averaged in Wales, but with no elevation and slightly lighter packs, we thought we could manage it. The main constraint was going to be the light: there would only be about 7 1/2 hours of sun a day at this time of year, and sunset would come by 4pm. The temperature was forecast to be in the 40s, with low 50s a couple of days, and the rain was supposed to be intermittent and rarely heavy (unlike the Midlands and the North, where there had been significant rain and flooding the week before).

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