Category Archives: Newberry Tours

Some days are diamonds….

I was called a ‘Chuffernutter’ today! I wasn’t sure if it was polite or not and I wasn’t sure if it was a complement or not. I smiled nervously as I gathered my thoughts!

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A few days ago my old buddy, Estate Agent Extraordinaire Mike Baker, asked me if I fancied a tour around the Barry Steam Train Depot in Barry. The answer I gave him was the same answer he would have got if he had asked a dying man who had just crawled across the Sahara Desert if he fancied a glass of water.

Having obtained a day pass from the lady of the house I got up very early and made my way down to Barry through the early morning rain. My instructions from Mike were to find Howes Garage near Barry Town Station and follow a map he had sent me.

I found the gate and rang Mike’s number… and as he was speaking an orange suited figure appeared from a distant building and I soon found the gates to paradise being opened. Mike looked like a real railway worker, nothing like the smooth Estate Agent I know!           Mike greeted me with a smile and a cheery handshake and welcomed me to the Barry Steam Shed. What followed reminded me of the old John Denver song, ‘Some days are diamonds, some days are stone…’

This was turning into a diamond day. It began with a tour of the shed when Mike introduced me to the trains and rolling stock and each piece was unique in its own way.

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Susan was a small steam train, one of only two of the kind built. The builder named them after his children, Susan and Timothy. Susan now lives in Barry; Mike was not certain of Timothy’s whereabouts.

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I climbed aboard and old DMU which is used for Santa Specials at Barry Island Station near Christmas.

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All the other pieces had wonderful stories attached to them and Mike told me about them like a master storyteller.

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This beast was once owned by the Channel Tunnel owners and was used to pull broken down engines out ion the tunnel. The equipment on the front can be pulled down to couple with French Trains.

 

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This fascinating vehicle is able to travel on road and rail. The wheels can be lifted to allow it to fit on a railway line.

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After the tour of the shed we had a cup of coffee and reminisced about the trains in the glory days.When we had finished our coffee others members of staff began to appear, one volunteer and one paid member od staff. I was introduced to them and as we were talking I looked across at Barry Town station. The 09:43 from Eastbrook was just pulling into Barry, the last stop before Barry Island. I must have had that certain look on my face because the guy asked me if I was a   ‘Chuffernutter?’

For a few moments I was not sure how to answer. I may have smiled nervously as I gathered my thoughts. I wasn’t sure if it was polite or not or if it was a complement or not.

I quickly deduced that a Chuffernutter was someone who loved trains. (Chuffer = Train and nutter = someone who loves something with a passion).

I am a Chuffernutter. It’s true! Guilty as charged.

We strolled back into the shed and I watched Mike as he was taking 1mm off a bolt to secure part of the line. He was using some kind of grinder and was going at it full speed and it looked pretty spectacular.

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As a volunteer for the day, I was assigned a few jobs. The first one was to help attach an O ring to the vacuum braking system on Susan, the only steam train in the shed. This we did with some difficulty, but eventually managed it after a number of trips to the tool box.

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We then tried (at least I just watched!) to repair an ancient battery/jump start charger. It was somewhat bigger than the one I use on my car. This one looked quite old a rusty and after a long period of huffing and sighing my co worker gave up and was trying to work out the cost of a new one under his breath.

What followed was unexpected and truly wonderful!

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Behind me one of the old trains burst into life. Thick diesel smoke began to fill the shed and the lads quickly opened all available doors to allow the fumes to escape. They must have noticed my worried look because I was told the smoke would run clear as the engine warmed up.

Then came the sweetest words I have heard for a long time. The answer must have been one he was expecting, because I was asked’ ‘Do you fancy a ride in the cab’

By the time he said you, I was up the steps and in the cab.

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Our trip was a short but complicated one. We were required to manoeuvre an old wagon to a different part of the yard to await the loading of some old sleepers. It necessitated a number of points changes, all expertly completed by Mike pulling on a range of levers.

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Sitting in the driver’s cab of this huge loco was just like a dream come true. My childhood ambition was to be a train driver. I am old now but the dream is still there. Today was getting pretty close to it! The sheer power of the loco was thrilling.

Sadly, as we pulled back into the shed, it was time for me to leave.

I had learnt some lessons…

I still dream of being a train driver…

Preserving these old locos and rolling stock is the work of loyal volunteers who work hard in unglamorous situations…

 

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But the most important lesson of the day….

I am a Chuffernutter…and proud of it!

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Michael… thank you!!

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Adventure is out there – The Wenvoe Tunnel

Adventure is out there!

Last Sunday I fulfilled a long held dream. For years I had wanted to walk the Wenvoe Tunnel.

This is a large tunnel running underneath Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff.  It is arrow-straight with a single air shaft halfway along.

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This map shows the route of the tunnel. The large buildings in the top left are Marks and Spencer and Tesco at Culverhouse Cross in Cardiff. The black line shows the extent of the tunnel.

The Barry Railway Company started work on the Wenvoe Tunnel in 1888. It was built to create a direct link down to Cadoxton and Barry Docks from the South Wales Valleys. The line was 18½-miles long from Trehafod into the docks in Barry. It is the same line that ran along Walnut Tree Viaduct near Tongwynlais. In 1898 the tunnel was completed and in full use.  It was, and still is, one of the longest tunnels in south Wales at 1867 yards, a shade over 1 mile long.  The tunnel was closed in 1964

Three intrepid explorers set off on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We were glad it was dry and sunny; the tunnel now suffers badly from flooding, with waters reaching a depth of four feet after heavy rainfall. A walk through in winter is not recommended.

Access to the tunnel is reached from Marks and Spencer car park at Culverhouse Cross Retail Park and we parked our car in the car park, actually just behind Tesco and headed off through some thick undergrowth and then down a steep bank.

 

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We then crossed over a fence and a small field and found ourselves in a pleasant meadow where grass and clover grew in abundance. We followed a winding path.  After less than five minutes we found our absolute hidden gem. Situated near one of the busiest road junctions in Wales is the mysterious entrance to the long disused tunnel.

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It was magical! We stood at the brim of a deep, oval cutting, the northern portal somewhere below.  A slippery slope led down to the flooded cutting and the old track bed, silent now for almost fifty years. Bright green weeds and algae were thriving in the still water.  One step in the mud and my legs almost disappeared from my knee down.

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We knew from other explorers that the fence was completely sound other than a missing spike above the lock, but one of the fence slats to the left of the gate is loose, and can be rotated around and we squeezed through with only a minimum of embarrassment.

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The excitement was almost unbearable. The tunnel is dead straight (with a gradual ascent from the north portal).  It is wide too, and in its day carried double track all the way. We entered excitedly, led by Gaz.

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Immediately you could see the south portal 1867 yards away just a tine chink of light. We could hear water dripping; otherwise all was silent in the magical world of The Wenvoe Tunnel.

 

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Walking through the tunnel was quite easy as a large water main runs the length of the tunnel and makes an excellent causeway to keep out of the damp.  The main supplies the town of Barry with its water.

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Except for the very southernmost portion of the tunnel, both walls and roof are neatly lined in brick.  There are no bulges, cave-ins or repairs evident.  The most striking features are the calcite and rust deposits that have formed on the walls; some are truly amazing.

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We made our way through stopping often to take photographs and be amazed at some of the sights there. We saw curtain stalactites forming on the curved walls, jet-black secretions and thick rust build-up, and some portions of the wall are completely encased in calcite.

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Along the edge of the tunnel are markers, each one marking the old measurement of chains. At the 46-chain mark, we came across a huge airshaft, which dominates the tunnel.

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It’s massive, almost the entire width of the tunnel.  Enough light spills down it to be able to turn all torches off whilst nearby, and directly below it a huge pile of assorted junk has built up.  We stopped here, amazed at what we saw. When I was young we used to look at the top, which used to stand near the Old Culverhouse Cross Roundabout near the old caravan park, but to be at the bottom and in the middle of the tunnel was magical.

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We pressed on and as we neared the southern end we noticed that our voices had begun to echo much less and we saw that the tunnel was not brick lined here but natural stone. The tunnel builders must have had to blow their way through the rock here. We guessed we were nearing the site of The Wenvoe Quarry. As we neared the end we saw that it again was brick lined.

An interesting and little known fact is that Royalty often spent the night in the tunnel if the royal train was in the area! During the Second World War especially, if the King and Queen were on a visit to the area in an effort to keep them safe in case of air raids during the night, the Royal Train was run into the tunnel and remained there until the morning. Guarding it was relatively easy, although they would have had to stop coal trains using it during that time.

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Looking back down the tunnel from the south portal.

 

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We stayed for a few minutes for a photo shoot before the long journey back along the pipe to the northern portal. The journey back seemed shorter although no less fascinating.

We reached our starting point tired but exhilarated. Gaz, Muzzy and I felt our expedition had been a great success

 

What a journey, what a thrill! The only thing missing was the thunder of a steam train thundering through with its precious cargo of black gold, but then somehow the magic, which came with the desolation and silence, might not have been there.

One story from the past is recorded:

I used to know an elderly gentleman who’d grown up in the 1920s in Ebbw Vale, and whose father was friendly with one of the signalmen who manned the Drope signal box near The Wenvoe Tunnel. On one visit he was able to walk into the tunnel and stand in one of the safety recesses in the wall while a locomotive thundered past. It was, he said, both the most exciting and the most frightening thing he’d ever done!

I hope this forgotten gem remains untouched and available for generations to come.Image

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D.Day 70th Anniversary Celebrations June 2014 – the amazing story of a picture of a veteran and his grand daughter

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April 2014

I recently discovered, that a photograph of my dad and my daughter, taken by a freelance Australian photographer during the celebrations of 60th Anniversary of D.Day, has been chosen to publicise the 70th Anniversary celebrations on posters around Caen in Northern France.

This picture was spotted by an old friend of mine Jacques Perrone. It is outside the Abbey aux Dames in Caen, France, the first city liberated by the invasion force on D.Day 1944.

This is the e.mail I received…

Dear Roger and Family – I send toy  two photos that  I am  happy to send and you be certainly also happy to receive.  We discovered  those in  the area of ” the Abbaye aux Dames” – The photo of Jack and Bethany  celebrate the British soldiers that came in Normandy to liberate our land 70 years ago- We are happy that Jack  was selected. And the others photos  remind the important events that will succeed  in Normandy this year.
At the 6 th June there will be many celebrations on the coast and elsewhere- The Queen will come in Ouistreham with Obama and Hollande and may be Putin.
There will have many control and the access will be difficult. I will send you  later more information later;
I look  Facebook notificataions from the Master Roger N- Very interesting-
I  am not competent enough to answer with many words;  I will learn.
Cordialement.

Jacques et Rosine

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We have stayed with Jacques and his wife Rosine each time we visit France for almost twenty years.  Also, in 2004 when we attended the 60th Anniversary celebrations, Jacques and Rosine hosted my parents. They ‘adopted’ him as their very own veteran.

I was completely amazed at how much the ordinary people in France are grateful for what happened in 1944. They have never forgotten what the allied forces achieved during that remarkable time. They are as grateful today as they were then.ImageImage
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ImageImageThis picture was taken exactly the same time as the Australian photographer took his, but from a slightly different angle.

ImageI am very proud and humbled.

I tracked down the photographer and he has agreed to meet us in Caen in June.

God willing, I will be in Caen with my brother and my son, along with The Queen, William and Kate, President Obama, David Cameron and Mr Putin to remember those who liberated Europe.

We will be representing my dad.

I hope the Queen, William and Kate like the poster.

To be updated in June…

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June 2014 – what happened…..

Before he passed away in 2009, I had promised my father that I would keep returning to Pegasus Bridge every year I could. This year was to be a special one, as it was 70th Anniversary of the D-day landings. Each year fewer and fewer veterans actually attend the ceremonies in Normandy. The remembrance of 2014 was expected to be the last ‘major’ event of this kind. A soldier who was 18 in 1944 would be 88 today. Most of the survivors have now passed away.

 

We had agreed that my brother John, son Gareth and I would travel to Caen and Benouville this year to represent the family. The news about the poster brought added excitement. We had booked late and the only affordable hotel we could find was in Rouen, which was some 130 km away from Caen. That would be an hour and a half drive if traffic was good! There was also the problem of access to Pegasus Bridge. The attendance of many heads of state meant security was very tight at the main venues. We needed to get a special visitor pass, but repeated requests to the authorities in Normandy drew a blank.

Fortunately for us, our friends Jacques and Rosine Perrone were on the case and the pass was secured as we were about to leave the UK and Rosine had arranged for it to be sent by special delivery to our hotel in Rouen.

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We left the UK to travel to Rouen via Newhaven and Dieppe. It was an unpleasant, middle of the night crossing usually favoured by truck drivers, eager for a crossing which fitted in with their driving and rest times.

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We arrived in Rouen as dawn was breaking and strolled the streets in an eerie silence.

Rouen, the historic capital of Upper Normandy, was the scene of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, convicted and then burnt at the stake in 1431 on the Place du Vieux Marché. Rouen is also the “Town with a Thousand Spires”, and over the centuries different parts of the town blossomed with jewels of religious architecture. Notre-Dame Cathedral inspired Monet to paint his Cathedral series.

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The laid out banks of the Seine are a wonderful area to take a stroll, Rouen is a young town, with a well-developed nightlife, but all we saw were deserted streets.

We found a tabac that was open and enjoyed a cup of coffee with some chefs finishing off their beers after a long night’s work. They would soon be heading home for bed! Adventure awaited us!

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We had to wait for our small hotel to open so we could collect our car sticker, before heading off to Caen.

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After several hours we arrived in Caen headed for the Abbaye aux Dames, which is situated near the centre of Caen.

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The Abbey of Sainte-Trinité, also known as Abbaye aux Dames, is a former monastery of women and is now home to Regional Council of Lower Normandy. The complex includes the Abbey Church of Sainte-Trinité.

The abbey was founded as a Benedictine monastery of nuns in the late 11th century by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders as the Abbaye aux Dames (“Women’s Abbey”), as well as the Abbaye aux Hommes (“Men’s Abbey”), formally the Abbey of Sainte Étienne. The works began in 1062, starting from the rear and finished in 1130. Matilda, who died in 1083, was buried under a slab of black marble in the Abbaye. The original spires were destroyed in The Hundred Years’ War and replaced by less striking balustrades in the early 18th century. The community of nuns was dispersed and suppressed by the French Revolution. In 1823 the local city council decided to transfer the ancient Hotel Dieu (possibly also founded by William the Conqueror, but more likely Henry II), to the former cloister for use as a hospital, and the ‘canonesses regular’ who had assumed responsibility for the hospital from the two abbeys during the 14th century, established themselves there. The canonesses continued to operate there until 1908 when the facility was given to the Hospice Saint-Louis use as a nursing home.

We parked and entered the square in front of the Abbaye.

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It was impossible to miss the poster. Standing in front of it for the first time was an incredibly moving moment.

P1010116To see our father’s image being used to promote the 70th Anniversary of D-day was most humbling. All three of us – grown men – wept openly. We tried to imagine our father’s reaction, had he been able to be with us. We guessed, a mixture of pride and embarrassment. He was a quiet, unassuming, gentle man, who hated being in the spotlight.

We could see our mother standing there, with her hands over her mouth, bursting with pride at this image of the man she adored, since the day she first saw him way back in the dark days of the war.

We realised then, that we had made a monumental mistake in not bringing my daughter Bethany with us. Her beautiful smile beamed out from that poster, radiating hope for future generations.

Dad & BesI knew straightaway that I had to return with her to show her and share this with her.

We spent some time taking photos, laughed some more and cried some more, before my brother told us he was off for a cup of coffee as he was finding the mixture of emotions ‘tough to deal with’.

What happened next was just amazing. A series of incredible coincidences paved the way for a wonderful story to unfold.

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John made his way to a nearby tabac, and as he waited to be served he thumbed through a brochure advertising things taking place in Normandy and he came across the picture of my father and Bethany, so he pointed out to the lady next him that he was the son of the gentleman in the picture. What he did not know was that this lady worked for the Regional Council and was a part of the team that chose the picture in the first place. This was so exciting for them. Suddenly this picture had a story behind it. The old veteran and the little girl suddenly had names and a family and a story to tell.

By now, we had joined John, and we were excitedly invited to the offices of The Regional Council in the Abbaye. Here we met other regional officials and the French Government minister for Veterans’ Affairs.

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The French press were also in the building and we were interviewed and my brother also recorded an interview for the local radio station. All were eager to learn about the two characters in the picture – the old veteran and the little girl.

What we were able to tell them, they found amazing. The picture had been taken in 2004, when we came to celebrate the 60th Anniversary od D-day. At that time my father had been awarded a special commemorative medal by the people of Normandy. The photograph had been taken by an Australian photographer.

Where the picture had been for ten years, I do not know, but it had been chosen, one out of many, to help publicise the events surrounding the 70th anniversary. To them, the picture was a special one, but what they did not know was that the veteran was Sapper John Newberry, who was dropped by parachute near Pegasus Bridge on D-day 1944.

IMG_0011P1010211He served with the 6th Airborne Division and was part of 224 Field Ambulance. The little girl was his grand daughter, Bethany Newberry, then aged ten. She too has strong links with Caen.

Bethany counts this great city almost as a second home. She first came to Caen in 1993, when she was just one year old. That year, we were invited by a friend, Margaret Davis, who lives in nearby Louvigny, to assist in her English lessons, by taking part in a Christmas presentation. Bethany has been coming every year since and has made many other visits to Caen as well.

Also present at that time was Emmanuelle Tirilly, the press attaché to the Regional Council. She was brilliant in organising things and sending us the resulting newspaper articles.

IMG_2571We left the offices buzzing with excitement at the way things had worked out.

We enjoyed the day at Pegasus, savouring the atmosphere, meeting up with an old friend Joe Riley now 92 years of age.

IMG_2562DSC06497 DSC06485 DSC06484We had one more meeting to look forward to; I had arranged to meet with the photographer Greg Waite at Pegasus Bridge later that day. My friend Jacques Peronne had tracked him down via the Internet and passed his e-mail address on to me.

P1010239We met Greg, as arranged in Benouville. He was truly wonderful and gave us copies of the poster to take home and we chatted about the impact the picture was making. He allowed us to use the picture as we wished. I guessed I would probably never meet him again.

We enjoyed the rest of our visit – although we found the long trek back and fore to Rouen a bit difficult!

To be at Pegasus Bridge is, for us, an almost spiritual experience. We feel our father’s presence here in some strange way. It’s where this gentle, loving man fought for freedom, it’s where his friends fell and it’s where his friends are buried. We make a point of visiting the British Cemetery at Ranville every single time we come.

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While all this was going on Bethany tweeted about the picture, in response to a request put out on the BBC. Huw Edwards re-tweeted it and before long The Wales on Sunday newspaper was on the phone to Bethany for an interview. The reporter spoke to her and me and the following Sunday a beautiful article appeared in the Wales National Sunday paper.

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When we arrived home we shared our experiences and made plans to return with the poster girl.

Bethany is now 10 years older and at 21 is preparing to marry the love of her young life, a brilliant young man called Alex.

The only free date for our visit was in early August, a date that coincided with the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War.

The cost of crossing the channel in mid summer coupled with the fact that Bethany had just started a new job, meant that the journey had to be a short one, so there was much to pack in to such a short time. We booked a 24-hour ticket with Brittany Ferries to Ouistreham. Bethany, Alex, Jean and I set off, full of excitement and anticipation.

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I had kept in touch with Emmanuelle Tirilly and was overwhelmed with the kindness she was showing us. She insisted that we stay in her home and promised she would help us fit as much as we could into our short visit.

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We had arranged to meet her in the Pegasus Memorial Museum, straight after getting off the ferry from the UK, mid afternoon on Sunday 3rd August. We were a little late and a little nervous; I could not really remember what Emmanuelle looked like. Our worry was unnecessary. We all knew each other straight away.

We toured the museum and showed her my dad’s picture with 224 Field Ambulance.

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Afterwards we explored the area around Pegasus Bridge. It was Alex’s first visit and it was good for us to see it all through new eyes.

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We then made our way to the Abbaye aux Dames for Bethany to see the poster for herself. Jean and Alex shared her excitement and anticipation.

When we stood in front of the poster it was an extremely moving moment – one which we will never forget.

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More tears, more smiles, more reminisces. It was a beautiful moment; one we were so fortunate to share together.

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Emmanuelle had been very busy preparing for the visit and had arranged a full programme of tours, press and radio interviews. One reporter had even cut short his family holiday to be with us. Emmanuelle had also tried to arrange a TV interview but this could not be confirmed.

We reluctantly left the Abbaye after a long while and made our way to Emmanuelle’s home. The girls settled in while Alex and I drove to Louvigny to pick up Margaret. I was keen for her to be as involved as possible, as she was the main reason we have become so attached to Caen. We had great fun on the return journey with Margaret arguing vociferously with my satellite navigation system about the best route to take!!

Margaret won!

We arrived safely back at the home of our new friend. This kind French lady treated us like royalty; nothing was too much trouble. We enjoyed aperitifs and canapés in her beautiful, quiet garden before enjoying a wonderful meal in her home.

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It was a unique experience….

Arrangements for the following day had to be adjusted when the TV crew rang to confirm they were actually coming and wanted to arrange an interview. This was so exciting!

The crew arrived early the following day and proceeded to connect cameras to the inside of our car.

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We then had to drive around Caen when instructed and there were cameras waiting on street corners to catch us as we drove by. Margaret had again agreed to join us and we met her by the Abbaye.

At the Abbaye our reactions were filmed and we were so proud of Bethany as she was interviewed for the Normandy TV Station – Basse Normandie.

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This was all very exciting, but more was to come.

We walked inside the grounds of the Abbaye, where we met a smiling Greg Waite. He seemed genuinely delighted to meet Bethany at last. For ten years he had known her as the little girl in a picture. Now he saw her face to face 10 years older! He came bearing gifts! Posters, books, and even some Normandy bunting – all were bearing this precious image of the old veteran with his grand daughter.

He took Alex and Bethany off to take a photograph in the exact place he had taken the original photograph in 2004. At that time, Bethany was on the arm of her precious grandfather. Now she is on the arm of another – a young man who will soon be her husband.

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More TV interviews took place here inside the Abbaye grounds, with Greg explaining that the image had been chosen because of the beautiful way the photograph had captured the gentle dignity of the veterans, as seen in my father’s face, coupled with the hope for future generations as seen through Bethany’s smile.

While the camera crew packed up, we said our thanks and goodbyes and were taken on a tour of the Abbaye. We visited Matilda’s tomb, now more than ten centuries old. It is a stunning building, one I have never visited despite countless visits to Caen.

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After the tour, we were taken to an exquisite room where there were drinks and canapés prepared for us. Here the President of the Regional Council gave a short speech of welcome and thanks and he presented Alex and Bethany with a beautiful framed print of the Abbaye aux Dames as a gift from the people of Normandy. It will grace their new home for many years to come and will be a constant reminder of our visit to see the poster.

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There followed a series of interviews with the press and the local radio station. We interspersed interviews with visits to the food table.

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After some time, we said goodbye to Greg and will one day accept his invitation to lunch next time we are in Caen. Greg lives in a little village near Caen, on a farm with his wife and three daughters. That’s an invitation I intend to keep!

I was wondering how good his family photographs are!!

We then bade farewell to all in the Regional Council and left for lunch at Emmanuelle’s home. We took a detour into Caen city centre and while the girls did some quick shopping, Alex and enjoyed a cheeky café au lait in a pavement café. We smiled as we sat there, as on every shop around the café there was the poster with my dad and Bethany watching over us.

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Apparently the image is on all the buses and trams and is seen all over Normandy. There are even several giant copies of the poster on the railway stations and Metro subways in Paris.

Lunch, like everything else was delightful and we reluctantly said goodbye to our wonderful, generous host before starting or journey back home.

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It had been one of the most amazing twenty-four hours of our lives. We are so grateful to all who made it possible, so humbled that this image had been chosen, so thankful that millions of people will have seen my lovely dad and my precious daughter and above else we are touched that the image has become a symbol of peace. My dad’s Christian faith had brought him peace in his life and hopefully his lovely smile and the contentment on the face of his beautiful grand daughter will have brought hope and peace to others.

We must never forget the bravery and sacrifice of the veterans and all those who gave so much to give us our freedom.

IMG_2678Little did we know when we promised my father that we would return for the 70th anniversary commemorations that his presence would be with us in such a powerful but simple way.

 

Chasing the Lights – Tromso 2014

tromso_1076I have always been fascinated by The Northern Lights – The Aurora Borealis. This natural phenomenon – part of the wonder of God’s creation, has enchanted people for as long as they have been on earth. When dreaming about seeing the northern lights, you must remember that you are at the complete mercy of nature. The northern lights love to play hide and seek. Observing the aurora borealis is often a tug of war between your patience and the aurora itself. The guidebooks all say that you must ‘stay in the northern lights area at least a week, preferably two, and you will be rewarded – unless local weather suddenly decides to obstruct your view with clouds’. The truth for most of us is that we are restricted to a visit of just a few days. This uncertainty perhaps that just adds to the mystery that surrounds this enigmatic lady.

Our interest was further heightened after we watched a brilliant programme by Joanna Lumley about her interest in and visit to Norway to see the Lights. For her and her programme makers time and money was no worry and she had a great view of the lights.

index Hamsun_northernlights_194After watching the programme,  Boo and I made up our minds that we would try to see the Lights for ourselves.

What are Northern Lights?

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south..
Auroral displays appear in many colours although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.

What causes the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights are actually the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere.                                                                                                                                                                  The most common auroral colour, a pale yellowish-green, is produced by oxygen molecules located about 60 miles above the earth. Rare, all-red auroras are produced by high-altitude oxygen, at heights of up to 200 miles. Nitrogen produces blue or purplish-red aurora.

Legends of the Lights

‘Aurora borealis’, the lights of the northern hemisphere, means ‘dawn of the north’. ‘Aurora australis’ means ‘dawn of the south’. In Roman myths, Aurora was the goddess of the dawn.  Many cultural groups have legends about the lights. In medieval times, the occurrences of auroral displays were seen as harbingers of war or famine. The Maori of New Zealand shared a belief with many northern people of Europe and North America that the lights were reflections from torches or campfires.
The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin believed that the lights indicated the location of manabai’wok (giants) who were the spirits of great hunters and fishermen. The Inuit of Alaska believed that the lights were the spirits of the animals they hunted: the seals, salmon, deer and beluga whales. Other aboriginal peoples believed that the lights were the spirits of their people.

For Christmas 2012, I arranged a trip to Iceland for Boo and me to see the lights. Sadly this trip did not give us a sighting of The Temperamental Lady, as locals affectionately know her. However we loved Iceland and the people. It was a truly wonderful trip.

For Christmas 2013 my present to the good lady was a trip to Tromsø. This ticked several boxes. Boo had always wanted to visit Norway, my step great grandfather was Norwegian and the country has always fascinated me, it was the home of Roald Dahl and, of course, it gave us an another opportunity to see the Lights.

1898560_10152383875412784_1925346693_oWe flew from London, via Oslo to Tromsø. We left in heavy rain.

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33downloadMost of the journey was through very thick cloud but as we approached Tromsø  our excitement began to mount…

Tromsø city is the ninth-largest urban area in Norway by population and the seventh largest city in Norway population.It is the largest city and the largest urban area in Northern Norway and the second largest city and urban area north of the Arctic Circle.

Most of Tromsø, including the city centre, is located on the small island of Tromsøya in the county of Troms, 217 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The Tromsø Bridge connects Tromsøya to the mainland and the Trmosoyund Tunnel. The city is warmer than most other places located on the same latitude, due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

The city centre of Tromsø contains the highest number of old wooden houses in Northern Norway the oldest house dating from 1789. The Arctic Cathedral, a modern church from 1965, is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø. The city is a cultural centre for its region, with several festivals taking place in the summer.

6525081-Bus_to_town_TromsoeGetting from Tromsø airport was easy using the Flybussen, which took us straight to our hotel. We had chosen this hotel due to its location, offer of free tea, coffee and hot chocolate and above all else the offer of free waffles each afternoon.

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We spent much time exploring this lovely Arctic town. The people we met in the tourist office in shops or walking about were simply delightful and so proud of the place they call home.

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Tromsø_library_-_2005-09-13The library in Tromsø.

DSC05475 DSC05476Tromsø is also home to the most northernmost brewery in the world. It’s called Mack. I don’t drink beer but was interested in this unique place. Sadly there were no organised tours during our stay there.

DSC05590 We were there though really to see the lights. We had booked with a company called Green Fox Guiding. We chose these on the recommendation of a friend and some of the wonderful reviews they had on Trip Advisor.

5 of 5 stars Reviewed 27th February 2014

You know what they say… “You get what you pay for” and this chase was worth every penny. Our guide, Markus, was awesome. The weather was not good in Tromso at all. In fact, several northern lights tour companies had cancelled due to bad weather. Not Green Fox, Markus picked up our small group of 8 and took us all the way over to Finland. He just kept going till he could find the best location. He stopped a couple times to check the area for possible activity and would not give up. We had an amazing night with a fire and tea, great biscuits, baguettes, and even roasted some marshmallows on the fire. Oh yes…I forgot to mention the most important part….we saw the lights. We saw so many dancing green and purple lights, it was unbelievable. On a night, when we had not hoped to see them at all, we ended up seeing them all over the place in Finland. Thank you for one of the most unforgettable experiences of a lifetime.

The tour was arranged for our first night in Tromsø.

Everything that we had read about Green Fox was true. We met Marcus outside the Tourist Office and he took us off to search for the Lights. Marcus’s enthusiasm was infectious. He told us he was taking us to Finland, as he understood they had clear conditions. It was pouring down with rain in Tromsø, so we just had to trust him. As time passed the weather worsened, we drove through heavy blizzards and strong winds. After several hours though we came to a stop. A lorry that had skidded in a blizzard blocked the road to Finland. We were marooned on a road that had a large turning place. Marcus looked worried, but as he got out to think about what to do, we saw that they sky was beginning to break into clear patches.

After some discussion we decided to stay and hope for the best. Marcus kept us well supplied with coffee and baguettes but we had no real sightings. Neither did we have the promised camp fire. It was frustration all the way.

Just as we decided to leave there was thick cloud cover again, we were FREEZING cold and the road to Finland opened again but much too late for us. It was a subdued group of passengers in the mini bus that made the long drive back to Tromsø.

_MG_7271 _MG_7291 _MG_7296 _MG_7290We got back late, feeling frustrated.

DSC05491The next day I mailed Marcus to thank him and cheekily asked him for another try and he gave me a full refund. Cool! Maybe we could try again.

DSC05495Saturday was spent resting and exploring Tromsø and in particular the football stadium in Tromsø. Many top British teams have played here and I was determined to have my photograph taken with my Barry Town top on. It was a long climb up to the stadium and it was freezing as I posed and Boo did the honours with the camera. As we strolled around some players came out so I asked if I could look around inside. Amazingly they said yes and let us in. Boo was very unsure but in true Newberry Tours style we toured the home and away dressing rooms and got out on to the pitch, carefully, having ben warned by the players not to let the door close on us otherwise we would have frozen into the hallowed turf.

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By late afternoon the rain was coming down like stair rods and this continued throughout the evening, which meant another ‘lights chasing’ night was out of the question. We chilled in the hotel, enjoying each other’s company.

Sunday was a quiet day in Tromsø. No shops were open apart from the odd food shop. We explored the quayside where each day enormous cruise ships would pull in tie up, discharge large groups of passengers and by the next morning be gone.

DSC05533We found Tromsø Baptist Church and arranged our day to attend ‘Evensong’ at 5.00pm. However, we turned up but no one else did! WE were gutted having built our day around it. As we waited a local offered to help and rang several numbers without success.

DSC05522 DSC05523 DSC05526Monday was to be our last full day in this lovely little Norwegian town with its delightful people. We had decided to walk across the Tromsø Bridge, which connects the island to the mainland.

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DSC05597We dressed up warmly and set off on the walk of the couple of miles across and back. The walk was tiring, especially the outward side, up the slope of the bridge with the biting wind chilling our faces. I had left my hat back in the hotel – schoolboy error! Going down the other side was a bit easier and the sight of The Arctic cathedral – our destination – kept us going.

DSC05557IMG_0222DSC05538The Arctic Cathedral, formally known as Tromsdalen Church or Tromsøysund Church is a church in the city of Tromsø. The church is commonly nicknamed the Ishavskatedralen, literally “The Cathedral of the Arctic Sea or “Arctic Cathedral”. The church was built in 1965 and it is a parish church and not, in fact, a cathedral as it is commonly called.

The church was designed by Jan Inge Hovic and is built mainly of concrete. Because of the church’s distinct look and situation, it has often been called The Opera House of Norway”, likening it to the Sydney Opera House in Australia. The church is probably the most famous landmark in Tromsø, although Tromsø does have another church of interest, Tromsø Cathedral which is noted for being the only wooden cathedral in Norway.

The ground breaking of the church was 1 April 1964 and it was completed in 1965.The new church was consecrated on 19 November 1965. The church is built out of cast-in-place aluminium-coated concrete panels.

In 1972, a glass mosaic was added to the eastern side. The church acquired an organ built by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri in 2005, with three manuals, pedal, 42 stops, and 2940 pipes.It replaced the old opus nr. 12 organ delivered by Vestlandske Orgelverksted, Hareid, which had 22 voices and 124 keys.

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On the journey back across the bridge w noticed that some people had put locks on, swearing undying love – a bit like the bridge near Notre Dame in Paris.

The journey back was easier with the strong wind at our backs.DSC05570

We had determined to make a very important stop when we returned across the bridge. Lying just the other side was Tanter Ingers Tehus – the most northerly teashop in the world. This seriously needed a visit and we were more than ready for a cup of tea. We were not disappointed.

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We were the only customers and had the pick of the seats. The old girl behind the counter invited us to choose our cup from a vast array of bone china crockery, which she said came from all over the world. Boo chose a cup from Sweden and mine came from England.

IMG_0274 IMG_0279 IMG_0283She then proceeded to brew some tea in a black cast iron tea pot, but would not let us near it till her timer permitted.

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DSC05581 IMG_0293We sat and enjoyed the most glorious cup of tea – Boo… English Breakfast and mine… Darjeeling… all the flavour without the strength… We even treated ourselves to some cake even though we had waffles waiting in the hotel. We warmed up after the cold of the bridge and had the most splendid hour in that special place.

IMG_0295In the quiet, I had chance to think about how much I love my fellow traveller.

DSC05596So we approached the final night in Tromsø. We had more or less decided to have one last shot at the lights but when we enquired none of the tours would promise to even go, the weather being so bad. We were told to check later in the afternoon.

At 5.00pm I learnt that two tours were going – one heading for Finland again and the other going North towards Rakkfjorden. Despite the weather and the tug Finland had on us, we decided to go with The Arctic Guiding Services. They were not leaving till 8.00pm and heading for a break in the clouds near. This trip was on a proper coach which made the journey much more pleasurable and we got the front seat above the driver.

We left just after eight and travelled for a couple of hours towards Rakkfjorden. We made several stops looking for clear skies, but the blizzard and driving rain just continued unabated.

Amazingly just after eleven as we reached our destination the rain stopped. We got out into the freezing cold and gazed heavenwards. Much of the sky was covered with cloud but in the breaks we did see slight patches of green.

_MG_5057_MG_5073 _MG_5055 _MG_5054 What was amazing was that on photographs it was clearly green, but to the naked eye it was just like a cloud with a tinge of green. I was beginning to think that The Northern Lights are a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. We spent an hour or two here with some great people before the cloud closed in and stars were no longer visible. We left again somewhat frustrated. The photographs tell us we some of the Lights but our eyes and our minds thought differently.

 

They still remain elusive.

 

We got back to the hotel and about 4.00 a.m. ready for a sleep before checking out and heading home the following day.

The flight home had Wi-Fi and we were able to follow the plane’s progress with great interest.

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Iceland disappointed with The Northern Lights, Norway tempted us with just a little taste.

The chase will continue in Finland in 2015.