On top of the World

While shooting the second episode of the Bald Explorer I have had to do some very odd things, but certainly one of the most interesting has been clambering up Lord Hill’s Column in Shrewsbury and then yesterday, ascending the very cramped spiral stair case inside the old parish church of Myddle in order to shoot that all important establishing shot!

Dave, the owner of Castle Farm, had very kindly asked the vicar of the near by church if we might have the key to the ancient bell tower. It would be the perfect place to look down on the ruins of the old castle. Harriet, Georgie and I, following Dave’s lead, gingering climbed the narrow dusty stone staircase in almost total darkness until we arrived at a tiny door which lead onto the parapet.

Edging our way round to the other side, I was able to balance the camera on the wall and shoot down to the remains of Myddle Castle through the crenelations. It was fabulous.

BBC at the Column

The second episode of the Bald Explorer is now under way. The filming has commenced in Shropshire and this time I am looking at historic travel. With me to assist is my media student daughter Georgie, who just discovered she got an A for photography. Normally I work with Steve Pegram on these projects, but because of the distance, I persuaded him I could manage to film a couple of interviews on my own. At the last minute though, Georgie said she would like to come along for the ride and now I have her poking the camera in my face.

The high light of today’s filming has to be a visit by a man in a radio car and a ‘live’ microphone in his hand. This was Ian Perry from BBC Radio Shropshire and he was eager to know what exactly I was doing climbing up Lord Hill’s Column in Shrewsbury.

I told him that as part of my documentary I was eager to look down on the old London to Holyhead road where the old stage coaches would have trundled on their 170 mile journey to London. The Column, which was built back in 1814-1816, stands 133ft high and is claimed to be the tallest Doric column in the world. (A fact that is confusing as Lord Nelson’s column is 169 feet tall and the Monument in London is 202ft in height!)

The very nice people from Shire Hall who look after Lord Hill’s column, permitted me access and handed me the key to the small door at the base of the edifice. ¬†Inside, in semi darkness, there are no electric lights to illuminate the way, just very tiny slits for windows, is a spiral stone staircase that slowly winds its way up goodness knows how many steps.

Once at the top another door opens to take you out to a circular viewing platform, just below the 17ft high figure of Lord Hill, former MP for Shrewsbury and commemorated soldier that fought along side the Duke of Wellington in the Napoleonic wars.

Needless to say the views are spectacular and well worth the climb. You can see across the River Severn to Shrewsbury of course, but more, the 360 degree panorama allows you to make out the Wrekin, the Long Mynd and other Shropshire hills.

There is plenty more to be filmed in Shropshire, so I shall be back soon to complete the second video in the series of the Bald Explorer.

Consult the Coracle

I have been working on the next episode of The Bald Explorer and putting the basic script together. As I have done so, I started to think about the visuals and ways to make the episode more interesting than just standing by a building and spouting some facts and figures about it. Its very difficult to do much more than that unless you seek permission to go inside or find an expert to help you waffle on about the subject matter. In the past of course I have used computer graphics to help illustrate a point and I will be doing so again.

The next BE is about Shrewsbury, which is a fascinating market town and none more so because it is surrounded almost entirely by water. Its not an island, but might as well be as the River Severn nearly encircles the town by looping round on its journey from Wales to the Bristol channel.

One of the features that Shrewsbury has obviously found necessary to have are bridges and there are seven of them, each different and built at different times. Two are particularly interesting to me as they old, although not as ancient as the original constructions that once stood so impressively across this stretch of water.

It struck me that I could have a lot more fun in the video by not simply showing shots of the said bridges and me standing adjacent to them, but by paddling through and under them in some sort of boat. I do have a kayak in fact and my first thought was I could clamber into my life jacket and cut through the water with that. However, I am not at all confident in it and need to have lessons to right myself if I should, and I normally do, tip over.

The trouble with my Kayak is that it is not really in keeping with the serenity of the River Severn. Its a purple plastic thing designed for white water rapids and although there is a weir situated along the course of the river as you leave Shrewsbury I am not going to venture down that. What I need is some thing much more traditional and more placid.

Then it struck me. I need a coracle. This is an ancient craft, possibly older than the Romans and thought to have been in use in Britain before the invasion in AD43. It is a simple thing. In essence its an upturned basket made from local wood such as ash or willow. Traditionally it would have had animal hides attached to the underside to stop the water coming in, but I gather in the Victorian era, a waterproof substance called Calico was invented and painted on to a heavy material and does the job nicely.

A coracle is very much a single person craft and really a vehicle for fishermen. It wasn’t intended to be for carrying goods other than perhaps your sandwiches as you pootle about on the river surface with the single paddle. Sounds idyllic.

For me it is perfect, if I can control it, they are supposed to be tricky, but once the knack is mastered the opportunities are vast. As an investment, for they are not cheap to buy, I think it would be good as I can use it many times. One of the future videos for the Bald Explorer is to explore the canals and water navigation in Shropshire so I am sure it will get plenty of use.

Shrinking the Bald One

Over the last few days I have been agonising about the approach to producing these Bald Explorer videos. I naturally aspire making them look and feel like a television programme, but the Lewes episode has taught me many things. For example, just the overall time to produce a 30 minute episode is very long and frustrates not only me but also the potential audience.

The delay between producing them now I feel shouldn’t be lengthy. Secondly, the cost in petrol, meals out and the need for different bits of kit, props or costumes to complete a full programme contributes to the over all expense. With no funding or means to claim back expenses this makes it difficult to continue the production at the pace I would like.

Another thing that hinders the production is my availability, and of course my friend Mr. Pegram who is doing the excellent camera work. We both have busy lives with other work commitments interrupting our time.

I am sure there are a host of other things that I could add, but I wont bore you with all my lame excuses. So I have come up with a cunning plan, which I hope will satisfy all concerned.

I propose to make 5 minute mini episodes of the Bald Explorer that explore one or two elements of an over all theme. These would build up to make a collection or if you like could be placed together to make a fuller programme.

Each five minute episode would therefore be released far quicker and and give reason for the audience to come back for more.

The Lion Hotel

I have been researching for the next video exploits of the Bald Explorer in Shrewsbury. The town is such a fascinating place and steeped in history. One particular focal point is naturally the busy coaching inn, The Lion Hotel at the top of the curiously named street, Wyle Cop.

Luckily for me some one has already done all the necessary research I could ever want and more. John Butterworth, ex-editor of the Shrewsbury Chronicle (12 years), has just published a wonderful account of the life of the county town’s premier hotel, formerly known as the Red Lion, but now renamed simply as The Lion. I have seen this magnificent establishment dominate history books about Shropshire many times, with continual mentions to the characters that ran the various coaching services along the London to Hollyhead road.

Charles Dickens stayed there and possibly wrote some of his Pickwick Papers while ensconced in the ‘strangest little rooms’ as he called it, describing the windows as if they were on the stern of a ship on account of the way that they bulged out onto the street.

Charles Darwin caught a stagecoach early one morning outside the Lion on his way to sail on board the famous ship The Beagle, which influenced not only his life but his view on natural selection and eventually led to the infamous book that so upset the clergy and other religious people of the time.

Even the great Paganini gave a concert in the Ballroom in 1833 which was an incredible coup for the boarder town, among a host of other talented and renown artists and musicians over the years.

I have set up to film an interview with John to talk about his book and the hotel for the Bald Explorer and I know that it shall be a fascinating encounter, but if you would like to find out more about this amazing place, the coaching history of yesteryear, the Shrewsbury’s most eccentric MP, Benjamin Disraeli’s address to the public and so on, then do check out John’s blog: http://thelionhotelbook.blogspot.com/¬†and order a copy of the book!