Will Fatberg Hunting Be The New Glamping?


It’s always good to learn a new word every day, and today’s word is fatberg. A fatberg is exactly what it sounds like–a giant mass of fat. In this case, a giant mound of fat blocking up one of the world’s largest sewer systems. So what does a fatberg look like? Watch this video to find out, but don’t blame me if you can’t ever bring yourself to eat a kebab again.

The fatberg in question was discovered in Kingston, southwest London. A congealed slab of oil, fat, food and other trash such as cleaning wipes, the 15-ton monstrosity was the size of a double-decker bus and had reduced the main sewer line to only 5 percent capacity, preventing locals from flushing their toilets.

They should be grateful. Thames Water officials say if they hadn’t caught it in time, the toilets would have started backing up and raw sewage would have spewed out, a bit like that barbershop scene in the remake of The Blob.
The brave workers at Thames Water have slain the fatberg with high-pressure hoses, but more fatbergs may be lying in wait to attack innocent toilet sitters. Now’s your chance to help. Many cities offer sewer tours. Brighton has one, as do Paris and Vienna. The closest thing you can get in London is tracing the underground Fleet River, which was used as a sewer for much of its history.

What the world really needs are overnight sewer camping tours where each person is equipped with a high-powered hose. Brave adventure travelers could venture forth into the Stygian darkness, ready to do battle with malevolent fatbergs. Forget glamping, you overpaid bank executives, and give something back to society for a change. Go hunting fatbergs!

Ashmolean Museum In Oxford Receives Major Gift Of Renaissance Art

Ashmolean Museum
Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has received a major bequest in the form of nearly 500 works of Renaissance gold and silver from the collection of Michael Wellby (1928–2012), the museum has announced.

Wellby was a well-known antiques dealer specializing in German and Flemish silver of the 16th and 17th centuries. He ran a shop in London for many years. As is typical with antiques dealers, he kept some of the best pieces for his personal collection.

Some of the pieces were made for royalty, like a silver gilt ewer made in Portugal c.1510-15 that bears the Royal Arms of Portugal. Another stunning item is a lapis lazuli bowl with gold mounts made in Prague in c. 1608 by the Dutch goldsmith Paulus van Vianen. Many of the pieces incorporate exotic materials such as ostrich eggs and nautilus shell, items that were just becoming available to the wealthy of Europe through the new global trade routes.

The collection will go on display in a temporary gallery this month and will remain there until a new permanent gallery is opened to house the collection. The Ashmolean already has an impressive collection of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Early Modern art, including a large display of English silver.

The Ashmolean, like the equally famous Pitt-Rivers, are both free museums, making Oxford a good budget travel destination.

[Photo copyright The Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford]

%Gallery-177873%
Share on Tumblr

Reassembling The Skeletons Of Medieval Royalty

medieval
A team of scientists from Bristol University are using DNA analysis to identify the remains of early medieval English royalty.

The bones are kept in several mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral and include the remains of King Cnut, a Norse ruler who conquered England and ruled it from 1016-1035. The other remains are of Emma, his queen, and later kings Harthacnut, Egbert, Ethelwulf and William Rufus.

During the English Civil War the cathedral was looted by the supporters of Parliament, who disliked the “Popish” trappings of the elegant house of worship. In addition to stealing everything of value, they opened the mortuary chests and scattered their contents. The bones were replaced but of course are now mixed up.

The Daily Mail reports that the team will use DNA matching to determine which bones belong to which person. One of the DNA matches they will use will be from a recently excavated 10th century queen from Saxony named Eadgyth, who was related to some of the royals kept at the cathedral. The team is working within the cathedral so as not to remove the bones from hallowed ground.

Winchester Cathedral is the longest Gothic cathedral in Europe and dates to 1079. Like most historic churches in England, there was an earlier church on this site and many later changes to the present structure. The nave has a beautiful vaulted ceiling and some very nice stained glass, as well as an interesting museum. The town of Winchester boasts not only the cathedral, but also some other fine medieval buildings. It’s an hour by rail from London and makes a good day trip.

[Cathedral photo courtesy Tony Hisgett. Photo of coin bearing the inscription "Cnut King of the English" courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
medieval

London Construction Reveals Medieval Graves, Bronze Age Road

London, medieval, funeralLondon is built on layers of its own past. Occasionally they poke through to the present, like the old Roman walls and the Temple of Mithras. Now two current construction projects have revealed glimpses of the city’s previous epochs.

Work to build a leisure center at Elephant and Castle has uncovered some 500 medieval skeletons, the London Evening Standard reports. They were interred in 25 crypts. It appears they were relocated into the crypts in 1875 to accommodate a widening of the road but date as far back as the early 14th century. Now new construction dictates they’ll have to be reinterred again. Not even the dead get to rest long in London!

Another project creating a new tunnel for Crossrail at Plumstead has uncovered a much older transport system, the BBC reports. Archaeologists believe timbers they’ve discovered at the site are part of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway.

These wooden roads were used to ease travel across rough areas, especially wetlands. Similar trackways have been found in many locations in the UK and continental Europe. The odd thing about this one is that it runs along the same route as the new Crossrail route.

One great place to explore London’s history is the Museum of London. The British Museum has good galleries about prehistoric, Roman and Medieval England. The Crossrail Visitor Information Centre also has an archaeology exhibit until October 27 showing off some of their discoveries. The finds range from the prehistoric to the Industrial Revolution, although these latest finds are still being analyzed and will not be on display.

[Image of 15th century funeral procession at the Old St. Paul's cathedral courtesy Project Gutenberg]

A Drive Through Rural Oxfordshire And Buckinghamshire

Oxfordshire
England is so much more than its cities.

Most itineraries take in London and one or two more: Oxford or Cambridge, Brighton or Bath. While I love all these places, and live part time in Oxford, it’s the countryside that I truly enjoy. Glimpsed from the motorway it makes a pretty backdrop, but get off onto the country lanes and you’ll find villages filled with history, old inns with great beer, and amazing stretches of natural space.

Oxfordshire is one of my favorite parts of England. While it’s more built upon than the northern counties it is rich in antiquarian landmarks. Yesterday my wife and I set out to explore them with the same two friends who took us out on our last rural ride through Oxfordshire. While I have a ton of work to do this week and next, I can never pass up the offer of a road trip through England.

I thought I knew Oxford University inside and out, but our first stop proved me wrong when we arrived at the university’s Harcourt Arboretum a few miles outside town. Peacocks strutted amid a forest of trees gathered from all around the world. I can’t say I’m a big arboretum goer, and while I prefer natural forests to artificial ones, I did enjoy it. The sight of power lines and the distant hum of the motorway did nothing to reduce the feeling of calm that settled on me. Thoughts of my book deadline and the thousand other things on my to-do list disappeared.

Soon we were off to something I know a bit more about – medieval history. Passing down narrow country lanes flanked by hedges and old, lichen-covered stone walls, we came to the village of Ewelme (pronounced “you elm”). Like many English villages, nobody knows just how old this cluster of thatched-roof relics and Victorian trophy homes is. Ewelme became prominent in the middle of the 15th century when Alice, wife of the Duke of Suffolk and granddaughter of Geoffrey Chaucer, built a church, school and almshouses here.

The church is one of those magnificent little houses of worship you find all over England, such as in Dorchester or Binsey. Like with most of my visits to rural churches, we had it to ourselves, and we wandered at leisure admiring the heraldic carvings, fragments of original stained glass, and the alabaster tomb of Alice herself. The tomb is a bit grim even by tombish standards. In addition to carving her lying in state with her hands clasped in prayer in true medieval piety, the sculptor added a second image of Alice at the base showing her decayed and rotting. This was supposed to be a reminder of the way of all flesh. The creepiness still works six centuries on.

%Gallery-163241%Through a narrow doorway and down a flight of steps we entered a small cloister surrounded by 13 little houses. The charity that Alice set up is still in operation and needy people from the parish still live in houses paid for by Alice’s original donation. They are snug, tidy little homes and worlds apart from the grim concrete monoliths many of England’s poor live in.

The third building is a school that’s said to hold the record for the oldest continually operating school in the country, according to whoever it is who keeps track of such things. Sadly it was shut up for the summer, so we were left studying the worn medieval carvings on the wooden door and wondering what lay on the other side.

Suddenly this peaceful village scene was interrupted by the roar of jet engines. Seven red fighters shot overhead, trailing colored smoke. They were the Red Arrows, putting on a show at the nearby RAF airfield. They banked and looped and resisted all attempts at a decent photograph. After a while I stopped trying and simply watched. As we retired to a nearby pub for lunch (fish and chips and real ale, what else?) the Red Arrows were replaced by noisy relics from World War II that flew so low we could see the pilots. It was good to know the pub was safe from the Luftwaffe.

One-and-a-half pints and 50000 calories later, we headed out through more winding little lanes past curious cows and old cottages to neighboring Buckinghamshire, where we climbed a steep hill to Brill, a village that has one of the region’s oldest surviving mills. The mill has been standing here since the 1680s and while it no longer makes flour, it offers a fine backdrop from which to look out at the surrounding countryside.

The hill itself is pitted and gouged with steep clefts. Brick makers in centuries past dug out great chunks of the terrain in search of clay. This provided a great opportunity for a group of local boys. One half of the crowd tried to kick a football over to their friends on the other side. Each attempt ended with the ball plummeting into the pit and one poor kid scrambling down to get it. They weren’t deterred, though. I got the feeling that whoever managed to kick a football over that crevasse would become a village legend, his boyish exploits repeated and exaggerated for generations at the local pub until he took on the legendary stature of a Robin Hood or King Arthur. Or maybe he’d just impress the local girls. Either way, they kept trying.

A day spent away from the cities reveals England at its best. So if you’re in this or any other part of the country, it would be worth your while to rent a car and see the lesser-known rural sights. Just be careful driving on the left.